When the USC Aiken men’s basketball team tips off its season with an exhibition game at Mississippi on Nov. 1, it will feature many familiar faces from last season’s squad that advanced to the Elite Eight of the Division II NCAA Tournament. That’s because nine of the 10 Pacers who played during the historic postseason run are returning this season.
After the program’s deepest run in the NCAA Tournament, USCA will also return a couple of players to the roster who are familiar but didn’t play at all last season. Difference-making big men Alvin Brown and Rick Alderman are on the roster for the rapidly approaching 2013-14 season.
“It makes us very deep,” Pacer men’s head coach Vince Alexander said of the additions at the USCA athletic department’s media day Wednesday. “We’ve got to figure out playing time for those guys.”
The 6-foot-10 Brown hasn’t played since the 2010-11 season, when he dominated in the paint and was named the Peach Belt Conference Defensive Player of the Year. The 6-6 Alderman redshirted last season, missing the entire campaign, after emerging as a starter at the end of the 2011-12 season and the Pacers’ most reliable post presence.
“Season before last, by end of season he was our best player,” Alexander said of Alderman, who was sidelined because of injuries. “It’s exciting having him back. He’ll bring some experience. He’ll bring tenacity. Tough kid, blue-collar kid. He’ll go out; take charges, get rebounds and score.”
Now a senior, Alderman averaged 6.0 points, 2.9 rebounds and 1.0 assists per game in his one season on the hardwood for USCA. But he got better as the season went along, scoring in double figures six times including a season-high 18 points in NCAA Tournament game against Wingate.
Alderman was thrust into the Pacers’ regular rotation because he was one of a number of players trying to fill the void left by Brown. After his impressive first season with USCA when he led the team with 90 blocks – an average of 3.3 per game which was fifth best in D-II – Brown was forced off the squad because of academic issues. He wasn’t eligible to play the past two seasons, but has persevered to the point that his grades are high enough to let him return to the Pacers for his senior season.
“He’s worked very hard over the last couple of years. He’s matured a lot. Last semester had 3.0 or better and did a really nice job,” Alexander said of Brown who also averaged 8.9 points and 5.9 rebounds per game in his season of action and his 61.8 field-goal percentage was third best in the PBC. “Basketball-wise, he’s a great addition because of his ability to block shots and control the basket for us.”
Alexander said Brown will face a challenge getting back in “basketball condition,” after sitting out the past two seasons. The timing and touch that made him third all time in program history in blocks could be rusty. But Alexander said he’s been pleased with what he’s seen so far.
“The biggest thing, when you haven’t played ball in two years, how well will he get in basketball condition – get his touch back,” Alexander said. “He’s done a good job in workouts so far. We’re certainly excited to have him back.”
Brown and Alderman will join what was already expected to be one of the best front courts in the nation. Returning from last season are starters Paul Larsen (6-6) and Santoine Butler (6-8), who combined for 25 points and 15.6 rebounds per game. Other bigs in the mix include Derrick Scott (6-9), Kinley Branch (6-6) and Shane Porchea (6-5) – all of whom made significant contributions to the overall team success.
“I’m excited about these guys. They’re doing a good job and working hard,” said Alexander, who will have one new player – Gavin Stephenson, a transfer from VMI that averaged 2.2 points per game. “Gavin can play several positions for us, from the 1-3. He’s bigger, strong and handles the ball well. Good shooter. Good kid. The big thing for him now is figuring out our defensive system and how we do things.”
The Pacers won’t have much time to figure things out. They open with a pair of exhibitions against Southeastern Conference schools Mississippi and South Carolina.
They will play the D-I programs in a three-day span before opening the regular season in a tournament in Puerto Rico less than a week later. Alexander said it will be exciting to play Ole Miss and USC at their big arenas. So many of his players are D-I transfers, that he wants to give them all a chance to play under the bright lights against top competition.
“It’ll be great for our guys. We’ll get a chance to see where we are,” Alexander said of his team, which is expected to be ranked toward the top of the D-II poll when it’s released and a top contender to return to the Elite Eight and beyond. “They think they’re good. We’ll see when it comes to playing against Carolina and Ole Miss.
“We have to stay focused on the fact that this is a new season, got to work just as hard as we did last year. Teams are going to come at us just as hard as they did last year. We’ve got to be ready.”
Noah Feit is the sports editor for the Aiken Standard and has been a professional journalist for more than 14 years after graduating from Syracuse University.
AT A GLANCE
USC Aiken’s exhibition schedule
USCA at Mississippi
• Nov. 1, 4 p.m.
USCA at South Carolina
• Nov. 3, TBA