LOOKOUT MOUNTAIN -- Under fifth year head coach Kyle Taylor, the 2013-14 edition of the Covenant men's basketball team begins the season on Friday night at Berry in the Berry College Classic in Rome, Ga.
On the heels of the first winning season in the program since 1999, the Scots have to fill the shoes of six departing seniors and seven total letterwinners lost. Together, those seven players accounted for 72 percent of the scoring from last year's successful campaign.
Leading the charge this season is junior Colton McGriff. The 6-foot-6 forward from Birmingham, Ala., was the team's leading scorer a season ago at 11.3 points per game. McGriff was named to the NCCAA Mid-East All-Region team as he scored in double figures 17 times with a season-high 21 coming against Grace Bible in early December.
Frierson is the lone returning point guard with significant collegiate experience on this year's squad. The junior from Laurel, Md., came on late in the 2012-13 season as he scored a career-high 15 points in Covenant's 69-60 win at Huntingdon that clinched a winning season.
"Nate has always been a good player, but will need to shoulder more of the burden of this role as distributor and quarterback," said Taylor. "He is also one of our best two defenders, so needs to be great guarding on ball. We'll also ask Nate to score more this year."
Boyd, a sophomore from Detroit, Mich., provides a solid interior presence for the Scots. The 6-foot-6 forward played in all 24 games as a freshman and averaged four points and three rebounds per contest.
"With a thin front line, he will need to be consistent and make an impact every night," noted Taylor, talking about Boyd. "Chris has improved significantly this year, so I'm looking forward to his impact."
Covenant returns nine letterwinners from a season ago, but just two starters in McGriff and Frierson. Taylor and assistant coach Brian Millar gathered in a strong recruiting class with players looking to make an immediate impact.
Highlighting the incoming freshmen class is Coral Springs, Fla., product Robby Bell. Bell, who stands at 6-foot-3, had an outstanding high school career as he went 71-20 in three seasons as a varsity starter and holds the school record for free throw percentage and is second in 3-pointers made.
According to Taylor, Arima could be the backup point guard and is a solid defender and outside shooter. Phelps can also shoot the 3 with accuracy, and Portlock is a bigger guard (6-foot-3) who can score, rebound and defend.
Covenant was picked to finish seventh in the USA South preseason coaches' poll in the 11-team conference. Even with that initial ranking, Taylor is optimistic about his team and where they stand within the league.
"I think the conference is wide open. The top seven teams are all good (nobody is great), and all those games are winnable for us," remarked Taylor. "It'll be a really fun year because every night will be a dogfight between two good teams. There are not many cupcakes on the schedule in conference play, but also not many games that you look at and say 'how can we win?'"
Taylor's goals for his team this season include winning 17 games, breaking into the top four of the league standings and winning a conference tournament game. The top eight teams in the final USA South standings qualify for the conference tournament which is held at the top seed.
Covenant has not had consecutive winning seasons since late in the 1980s when Gene Fitzgerald was the head coach and put together four straight winning years, the most in program history.
Taylor continued, "I'm really excited about this season and this group. We need to continue to improve on last year's winning season. Stay humble, stay hungry."
Covenant's first home game is scheduled for Wednesday, November 20 against Sewanee at 8 p.m.