LOOKOUT MOUNTAIN -- Basketball season is once again present on the campus of Covenant College. The men's basketball program gets its season underway on Friday with an exhibition at Division I neighbor Chattanooga.
For the Scots and seventh-year head coach Kyle Taylor, the 2015-16 season is one filled with promise as the team looks to build off its success last year. In 2014-15, Covenant finished tied for sixth in the USA South and earned its first trip to the conference tournament and nearly upset top-seeded Averett in the first round.
"One big thing we have talked about as a team is building off last year," Taylor said. "We don't want to be satisfied with what we accomplished last season."
Covenant, picked 10th in the USA South preseason poll, returns 10 players from last year's squad and features five seniors and five juniors. Additionally, the Scots picked up two transfers and three freshmen to boost the roster.
Two of the key returners for Taylor's squad are seniors TJ Cox and Chris Boyd. Cox was second on the team in scoring last season at 10.3 points per game and shot almost 40 percent from behind the 3-point line. Boyd was also solid throughout the year as he recorded 6.4 points and led the team in rebounding.
"I expect big things from both TJ and Chris this season," Taylor said. "They both worked hard over the summer and are two of the biggest keys for us this year."
Cox and Boyd have plenty of company returning with them. Fellow senior Matt den Dulk along with juniors Will Portlock and Ben Phelps will all look to contribute significantly once again. Also returning are seniors Micah Turner and Daniel Garrett and juniors Robby Bell, Z Arima and Connor Sears.
"Den Dulk shot the ball very well at the end of last year, while Phelps has a tremendous shot from behind the arc and can get hot at any time," Taylor noted. "Portlock has great length on the defensive end and is an unselfish player."
"This is a good group of returners," Taylor noted. "All 10 have played significant minutes for us in the past or have started games. I'm excited about the experience and maturity level of all those guys playing a major role this year."
With a name that may take fans a while to figure out how to pronounce, Twagirayezu brings a lot to the table that Taylor is excited about. The 6-foot-6 forward comes to Covenant from Milligan College and can score from the inside and outside. Dryden comes to Covenant after a year at Thiel College where he played in 23 games for the Tomcats.
"Patjo has length, a great shooting touch and will probably start right away at the forward spot," Taylor said. "Berto is a tough, heady point guard that can push the tempo and sets up his teammates well."
The freshmen class consists of Nick Palmer, Tankk Pettus and Bailey Spragg. "All three of those guys are going to help us," Taylor said. "They have all looked good so far and fit in well with the program."
A few rule changes were passed by the NCAA in the spring that fans will notice right away. The biggest of which is the shot clock which has been reduced to 30 seconds. Taylor notes that because of all the experience he can put on the floor, he does not seem concerned that the change will have much of an effect on his team.
Ultimately, Taylor feels that winning more games than last year is an attainable goal for his team. The USA South again looks to be wide open with several teams in the mix for the top spot. Taylor wants to see his team go further than last year.
"Obviously, we want to get back to the conference tournament and make some noise there," said Taylor of his team's goals this year. "This is a talented team, perhaps the most talented team I have had in my time at Covenant. We might be a little thin, in terms of depth, up front but the guys we have there are very talented."
After Covenant plays Chattanooga on Friday, the Scots take a week off before facing another Division I foe in Liberty on Nov. 13. That contest is an exhibition for Covenant but will be the season opener for the Flames. The season officially gets started on Nov. 14 at Emory & Henry.
"I like our schedule," Taylor remarked. "Not as much travel in the non-conference portion this year, but the teams we play will be good tests for us before we head into conference play. We didn't play well in the non-conference last year and we hope to get off to a better start this season."
Five of Covenant's non-conference contests will be played at home starting with Sewanee on Nov. 17. USA South play opens on Jan. 2 at home against two-time defending conference tournament champion LaGrange.
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