The Dolphins Start A New Era Of Hoops

Entering his sixth decade of coaching, there is one thing that Hugh Durham knows how to deal with - change. Now in his fourth season as the Dolphins' head coach, the legendary Durham will see the look of his team change - from an undersized, 94-feet-of-pressure unit - to a bigger, half-court defensive unit that can battle on the boards.

"Last year we had the type of personnel that dictated we play 94 feet, both offensively and defensively," said Durham, who ranks 13th all-time in wins (555) among active coaches in NCAA Division I. " We still want to play up-tempo on offense, but our size dictates that we play more of a half-court defense, which should put us in better position to rebound the basketball."

For JU to be successful, the Dolphins will have to develop a defensive mindset, and the offensive options will have to change after the loss of two of the team's top four scorers from a year ago -- Calvin Slaughter (16.2 ppg) and Marvin Augustin (10.6 ppg).

Team chemistry will also play a big part in the Dolphins' success early on as the team molds all of the new pieces into one cohesive unit.

"This team has strong senior leadership, and that can make a difference when times are tough," Durham said. "When your two captains (Shawn Platts and Brandon Williams) have a strong work ethic and good character, it dictates instant respect and puts them in position to be effective leaders."

The Dolphins return three starters in the backcourt in Kevin Sheppard, Platts and Williams. With the addition of junior point guard Toby Frazier, and the maturation of sophomores Antwan Robertson and James Daniels, JU should be strong at the guard positions. The post will be much bigger, yet inexperienced with three junior college players and a Division I transfer. Kris Hunter, who sat out last year after transferring from Virginia, should provide an instant presence inside at 6-foot-11. Talented newcomers Tabari Brown, Ali Kaba and Jeff Howard will also be counted on to make an immediate impact in the post.

Other letterwinners returning are Eddie Simmons, James Daniels, Johnny Jones and Chip White.

Here is an in-depth look at how the Dolphins line up:

The point guard position will be stronger than last year with the return of Sheppard and the arrival of Frazier. Sheppard played in all 27 games as a freshman, including 24 starts, and led the team with 97 assists, while averaging 6.3 points in 26.0 minutes a game. He has improved his decision making which will allow him to take better advantage of his physical skills.

The addition of Frazier, a true point guard who started his career at Georgia Southern, will provide the Dolphins with the experience and leadership they need at the point. Although Frazier has the ability to score, he looks to get others involved first and has a solid feel and knowledge of the game.

Simmons, one of four seniors on the squad, also returns at the point as the team's best on-the-ball defender and can break people down off of the dribble.

The Dolphins' strength should come from experience at the wing position with the return of senior co-captains Platts and Williams. Platts finished third on the team in scoring last season with 11.0 points per game and was second on the squad with 92 assists, despite missing the final five games with a knee injury. Following post-season surgery, Platts worked hard to rehabilitate his knee and has paid the price physically to come back at 100 percent. Although his strength is getting to the hole, he will look to shoot more from the perimeter after hitting 40 percent of his three-point attempts last season.

Williams is the team's top returning scorer at 12.9 points per game, and really worked hard in the off-season to expand his game. His ability to hit the outside shot - he connected on 74 three-pointers last season and shot 40 percent from beyond the arc - will help him create opportunities to take the ball to the basket.

Robertson was moved from the post to the wing following his freshman season, which will create defensive advantages for the Dolphins. At 6-foot-6, 200 pounds, the sophomore swing player will be counted on to be a defensive stopper on the perimeter, while also providing JU with additional rebounding from the backcourt. His versatility and size also allows him to play in the post at both ends of the floor.

Daniels, who played 19 minutes a game as a freshman while averaging 4.9 points, will provide scoring off the bench and could develop into another defensive stopper. White, a walk-on spot shooter, played sparingly as a freshman, but could see more time because of his ability to shoot the ball.

Perhaps the biggest question mark could become JU's biggest strength. The Dolphins are inexperienced at the post with three junior college players and a Division I transfer, but possess the most size in Durham's four years in Jacksonville. It will be a challenge for the newcomers to learn an entirely new system, but they will be pushed to be productive from the start.

Hunter is the focal point in the post, after blocking 126 shots during his three seasons at Virginia. He has had a year to learn the system in practice and will be counted on to get the job done immediately. Hunter has proven he can play at a high level defensively, but the 6-foot-11 senior will also have pressure to perform at the offensive end.

The addition of Kaba, Brown and Howard gives the Dolphins a much-needed bigger look inside. Kaba is the consummate blue collar player who prides himself on rebounding and doing the dirty work. At 6-foot-7, 230 pounds, Brown has the size and strength to play inside, but also possesses the skills to step out on the perimeter and score. Howard (6-9, 240) provides additional size in the post and has good hands and can distribute the ball.

Jones returns as one of the Dolphins' most versatile players. The sophomore walk-on, who played in 13 games as a freshman, can play anywhere on the floor because of his ability to battle bigger players inside, yet use his quickness and strength to defend on the perimeter.

JU will play a full slate of TAAC games, including three separate trips to Alabama and the conference championship in Atlanta, after hosting the TAAC Tourney the last two seasons. The Dolphins will also play road games at Florida State and Georgia Southern, while playing a 14-game home schedule at Swisher Gymnasium that features Coastal Carolina and American University, now coached by former Virginia coach Jeff Jones.

With the return of three starters in the backcourt and the infusion of four talented newcomers in the front court, JU has the components to make a move toward an upper division finish in the TAAC. Mix in 40 years of coaching experience from one of college basketball's all-time greats, and the Dolphins might just be dancing in March.