By Dave Wagner
Maybe he wouldn’t have called his team a Lone Star Conference South Division contender before the season, but Texas A&M-Kingsville men’s basketball coach Pete Peterson thought his squad had a chance to be pretty decent.
In the division’s preseason poll, the Javelinas earned just 35 points and finished last out of seven teams. But they’ve foiled the so-called experts, and hope to overtake Eastern New Mexico University for the division lead in today’s 7:30 p.m. matchup at Greyhound Arena.
Kingsville was seventh on 14 of the 20 preseason ballots.
Not that Peterson was concerned.
“Coaches say they don’t pay attention to that,” the sixth-year Javs coach said. “I could tell with this team, in our fall workouts — I kept pushing them harder and they kept responding.
“I thought, ‘Wow, I think we may have something here.’”
Kingsville (16-8, 7-2 South) has strung together a solid division run which includes an eight-point win at home over ENMU (17-6, 7-1) last month.
“It’s going to be a good one,” Peterson said of tonight’s game. “Shawn (Scanlan, ENMU coach) has done an outstanding job, and they execute what they do so well.
“We feel fortunate that we were able to get them down here.”
Scanlan said Kingsville’s being in contention shows the overall balance of the South — and the relative value of preseason polls.
“I think they’re a joke; everybody’s just guessing,” he said. “It just shows how little everybody knows about the other teams. I couldn’t have told you about any player (Kingsville) had signed.
“(The coaches) don’t bump heads a lot (in recruiting). We don’t see the same players in many cases.”
A win tonight for the Hounds would all but lock up a second consecutive division championship, a loss would force them to win their final three games and hope the Javs, who would have a head-to-head tie-breaker, lose either Saturday night at West Texas A&M or next week at home against Midwestern State.
“We’ve got a chance to be a pretty good team, and we’re still trying to get there,” Scanlan said. “We haven’t put the whole package together yet.”
While the Hounds have won their last six games, Kingsville is on a 9-2 run that began just before the start of division play.
Peterson said his team has developed a good chemistry. Led by senior guard Will Brown, a first-team All-South pick last year, the Javs have solid inside players to go with him in Robert Hamilton and Jamie Barnett.
“Robert and Jamie both being there, that takes a little pressure off Will,” Peterson said.
He added he’s not that surprised by what his team has done, noting that by playing — and winning — their first three South games at home gave the Javs some confidence.
“I think we play well on the road,” he said of his squad, which is 6-5 on opponents’ courts and 2-0 in neutral-site games. “It should be exciting. I hope people come out because they’ll see some good talent on the floor.