It Takes ONE...to Capture The SUN

After finishing 18-10 a year ago and surprising many by finishing in a tie for third in the Atlantic Sun, the Dolphins will be a different but more talented team in 2001-02. Last year's squad was dominated by the senior play of guards Shawn Platts and Brandon Williams, and 6-foot-11 center Kris Hunter. The strong leadership and work ethic of Platts and Williams, in addition to great team chemistry, made for a more competitive JU team, which excelled in close games. Hunter's ability to block shots (114) also allowed the Dolphins to extend themselves defensively, thus creating one of the best defensive teams in school history.

"In order for us to reach our potential this season and challenge for the Atlantic Sun Championship, we are going to have to develop team chemistry," says head coach Hugh Durham, who was tabbed A-Sun Coach of the Year by College Hoops Insider last year after leading the Dolphins to a 10-win turnaround. "We are not going to challenge for the title on an individual basis. For us to win, we have to come together as a unit."

The Dolphins will be more athletic this season and will possess more scoring threats on the floor, but they will not have two senior guards to rely on for stability in the backcourt. Look for JU to apply more full court pressure and get out in transition, something that was not as necessary with Hunter in the middle.

"This team has an entirely different personality than last year's," says Durham. "We are a much more emotional team this year. The challenge will be to bridal the emotion toward the play on the court and direct it toward team goals."

Once again, defense will dictate JU's ability to get out and run and create good offensive opportunities. There was no secret to the Dolphins' success last season. JU set a school record by limiting opponents to just 41 percent shooting from the floor and ranked 30th nationally, allowing just 63.7 points per game. The direct result was the Dolphins' first winning season in six years.

"If we can get consistent defensive effort, and have the attitude of wanting to get better everyday, this team can be very competitive," says Durham, whose 573 wins rank 13th in Division I among active coaches. "The players have to take pride in getting better everyday and strive to play at a consistent level."

The Dolphins enter the season with two talented point guards, both of whom have a wealth of game experience. Junior Kevin Sheppard returns as the starter after making 11 straight starts to end last season. Sheppard, who has appeared in all 55 games of his career at JU, including 35 starts matured last year and will be counted on to provide the leadership for the Dolphins. The Preseason Atlantic Sun All-Conference selection established himself as one of the best on-the-ball defenders in the league and became one of the Dolphins' top scoring threats by the end of his sophomore season. He averaged 9.8 points per game while shooting 45 percent from the field and handing out almost 3.0 assists in only 22.0 minutes per game. The experience of once again playing for the Virgin Island National Team over the summer helped him prepare for his junior season.

Senior Toby Frazier, who started the first 16 games of the season last year at the point, will once again provide stable play off the bench and continue to harass opponents with his quick hands. Despite playing just 17.0 minutes per game, he tied for the team lead last season with 40 steals, including eight in a game against Coastal Carolina.

With the graduation of Brandon Williams, who averaged a team-best 14.5 points per game (along with Shawn Platts) and was the team's best spot-up shooter, the Dolphins will have to fill a hole at the two-guard spot. However, JU sports many different looks and a lot of versatility at the shooting guard position this year. Junior James Daniels returns for his third season at off-guard. He worked hard in the off-season on his shot after shooting just 31 percent from the floor as a sophomore. Daniels is a slasher with great quickness, who not only provides quickness on offense, but is one of the team's best on-the-ball defenders. Junior transfer Travis Robinson, who averaged 18.0 points and 6.0 rebounds a game at Barton County Community College, could have an immediate impact. At 6-foot-6, Robinson can play all three perimeter positions and can score from anywhere on the floor. Before transferring to Barton County, Robinson averaged a team-best 14.9 points in six games as a freshman at Fresno State, including a 33-point performance against LSU in the Hawaii Thanksgiving Classic en route to all-tournament honors.

Freshman David Lee, a 6-foot-3 guard from Columbus, Ga., will have an opportunity to earn playing time immediately. He averaged 24.6 points per game as a senior en route to Columbus Player-of-the-Year honors, while senior Johnny Jones will move out to the perimeter some after playing primarily in the post the last two seasons. Junior Chip White also returns as one of the best spot-up shooters on the team.

The wing position could be the pivotal spot for the Dolphins this season. If JU can score consistently from the wing, the entire offense could open up for proven scorers like Sheppard and Calvin Warner. Robinson provides an instant ability to score, and at 6-foot-6, can create match-up problems for the defense. Junior Antwan Robertson also has good size at 6-foot-6, 195 pounds. Last year he established himself as a strong offensive rebounder off the bench and worked hard in the off-season on his outside shot. Perhaps the most notable addition to the wing position will be Jones, who is an excellent defensive presence and has shown the ability to penetrate and create opportunities for others. The 6-foot-4 walk-on averaged 3.0 points, 3.0 rebounds and shot 61 percent from the floor in 27 games off the bench last season in the post, despite being undersized. Freshman Brian Novitsky will redshirt the season after re-injuring his foot during preseason workouts, but the 6-foot-6 left-hander will benefit from the season of training and should be ready to contribute next year.

What turned out to be one of the Dolphins' weaknesses last season, should become one of JU's strengths in 2001-02. The power forward spot could be a source of scoring and rebounding the Dolphins will need to take the next step toward a conference championship. Junior Tabari Brown, who started the final 12 games of last season, returns on the blocks where he began to improve dramatically toward the end of his sophomore year after sitting out the first nine games. At 6-foot-7, 240 pounds, Brown has a strong frame and can get open at any time in the low post. He averaged 3.6 points in just under 12 minutes a game last season, but could be more of an impact player if his defense continues to improve.

Joining Brown in the high post is Warner, a 6-foot-7, 225-pound junior who sat out last year after transferring from Eastern Michigan. Warner is a complete player who earned honorable mention All-Mid-American Conference honors as a sophomore after leading Eastern Michigan with 14.6 points and 7.0 rebounds per game. Warner can step out and hit the mid-to-long range jumper as evident by his team-best 54 percent field goal percentage as a sophomore.

Also returning in the post is senior Ali Kaba, a 6-foot-8, 220-pound rebounding machine who had an immediate impact for the Dolphins last season before missing the final four games with a broken hand. Kaba was one of the top offensive rebounders in the conference, and finished the season second on the team with 6.2 boards per game.

Filling the void at center created by the graduation of Kris Hunter will be a big challenge for the Dolphins. Hunter was fourth in the nation in blocks (4.1 bpg) last season, while scoring 9.8 points and grabbing a team-best 7.5 rebounds per game. More importantly, he was a presence inside and constantly altered the opponents' ability to get to the basket. JU will look to more than one player to fill the role, and the combination might lead to more productivity in the end for the Dolphins.

Junior college transfer Ryan Lewis will provide size and rebounding around the basket. The 6-foot-9, 220-pound junior averaged 6.0 points, 6.0 boards and 2.3 blocks per game for Chipola Junior College after transferring from the University of Georgia, where he played in 16 games as a redshirt freshman in 1999-2000. He has good offensive moves around the basket, while his long arms and athleticism allow him to block shots and rebound.

Joining Lewis will be Kaba, who has shown the strength to hold his own in the middle. He thrives on the challenge of playing defense and rebounding, and provides the physical presence needed at the center spot. Junior Jeff Howard also returns after playing sparingly in 17 games last season behind Hunter. He has a nice shooting touch away from the goal, and at 6-foot-9, 240 pounds, can bang inside. Freshman O.J Gilmore, son of former JU and NBA great Artis Gilmore, will most likely redshirt this season as he adjusts to the collegiate game. Gilmore has outstanding size and strength, and good hands for a big man. His 6-foot-10, 265-pound frame gives the Dolphins five players who are 6-foot-7 or taller.

JU will face a challenging schedule that includes 20 conference games, as well as road games against Texas and Wichita State. The Dolphins will also renew an old Sun Belt Conference rivalry with New Orleans and participate in the San Juan Shootout in Carolina, Puerto Rico. JU opens the season with five of its first six games at home, including three A-Sun games in eight days. Last season, Swisher Gymnasium was one of the most difficult places in the Atlantic Sun Conference to play as the Dolphins went 12-2 at home. JU will then play seven consecutive games on the road from Dec. 15-Jan. 2. Following a pair of home conference games at the beginning of January, the Dolphins will play five of their next seven A-Sun games on the road, and then finish the season with three of five games away from home prior to the Atlantic Sun Championship in Orlando.