U of O teams hope to bounce back from last season
Release Date: 11/16/1999
CLARKSVILLE, Ark. --- University of the Ozarks' men's and women's basketball teams will attempt to bounce back from sub-par seasons last year when they open the 1999-2000 season Nov. 19-20 in the Hendrix Classic.
Both the Eagles and Lady Eagles open the season on Friday, Nov. 19, in the Hendrix Classic in Conway. The Eagles play Williams Baptist College at 6 p.m. and the Lady Eagles open against Rust College at 1 p.m.
The Eagles were 12-12 last year, a down year for a program that has averaged 16 wins a year under head coach Johnny Johnson. But with four starters back as well as what Johnson calls his best recruiting class in five years, the Eagles could be flying high again this season.
"With the experience and depth that this team has, we have a chance to have a good season," said Johnson, who is 140-109 in nine seasons at Ozarks. "We can bring players off the bench at just about every position and not have a drop in talent. Our depth is our biggest strength."
The returnees include senior guards Patrick Prater, a three-time All-ASC honorable mention selection who averaged 15.8 points a game last year; and Daniel Shepherd, who averaged 14.0 points last year and has led the Eagles in three-pointers each of the past two seasons.
"We need Patrick and Daniel to have good seasons again and to provide the type of leadership winning teams must have," Johnson said. "They've both played in a lot of big games over the years here and they can pass that experience to our younger players."
Also returning is sophomore guard Ricky Johnson, who averaged 12.7 points a game on his way to earning ASC Freshman of the Year honors last season; junior point guard Donald Williams, who averaged 5.8 points and 2.6 assists; and sophomore forward Brian Henderson, who averaged 6.0 points and 3.7 rebounds.
Newcomer Travis Acrod, a 6-7 forward who starred at Clarksville High School before playing at Westark Community College last year, is expected to make an immediate impact for the Eagles. Westark transfers Michael Young, a 6-4 forward, and Ryan Koerdt, a 6-3 guard, as well as Southern University at Bosier (La.) transfer Nick Stewart give the Eagles a talented influx of junior college players. Among the freshmen who could play right away are 6-8 center Casey Gifford of Clinton, 6-5 center Brent Gibbs of Greenwood, 5-11 point guard Clay Davis of Greenwood and 6-1 guard Ben Tate of Flippin.
The Eagles are so deep that Johnson, who scored 36 points in one game last year, is expected to come off the bench and sophomore forward Anthony Peterson who played in all 24 games last year, will be redshirted.
"I've never had a team this deep in so many positions," Johnson said. "The key for us is developing some good team chemistry and not having players worrying about how many minutes they're playing."
The Lady Eagles are coming off a disappointing 9-15 season, one of the worst in head coach Jack Jones' 20-year coaching stint at the school. The nine-win total was the fewest number of victories since 1979-80, when his first team went 8-12.
"It was a very frustrating season because we were so young and inexperienced and we lost a lot of close games," said Jones, who has a career record of 302-224 in 20 seasons. "We lost some games early and then we just lost confidence in ourselves. I think what we went through last year has motivated me to work harder and I think it's motivated the girls to work harder. We don't want to go through another season like that."
The Lady Eagles return two starters from last season, senior guard Tracy Duncan of Dardanelle and sophomore center Christie Shuffield of Dover. Duncan, a two-year starter, averaged 6.6 points and 3.1 assists and, as the team's lone senior, will provide leadership to a team that has seven freshmen, three sophomores and no juniors. The 6-foot-1 Shuffield was one of the top newcomers in the American Southwest Conference last year, averaging 11.9 points and 5.8 rebounds. She recorded the first triple-double in the program's history against University of Dallas when she had 19 points, 14 rebounds and 10 blocked shots. "With Tracy and Christie we've got a good inside-outside combination," Jones said. "Tracy will be our leader and we will need her to shoot more and score more than she's done in the past. Christie had a good freshman season and we need her to continue to improve and step her game up."
The Lady Eagles will count primarily on freshmen to fill in the other positions, including a talented pentad of guards: Jaime Johnson of Lamar, Jennifer Byford of Pottsville, Melissa Spears of Farmington, Ashley Hudson of Monticello and Kristy Watts of Waldron.
"One area that we've definitely improved in is our guard positions," Jones said. "Last year we had no depth at the guard spot and it hurt us. This year we have some talented guards, two and three deep, and that will allow us to press more and play more up-tempo, a style that I prefer. We may have as many as four guards on the floor at once."