By Nathan Hutchinson
Register Sports Editor
The rebuilding process at Berea College has been slow and at times more than a little painful.
That was, of course, to be expected considering the circumstances.
Two seasons ago, the Mountaineers put a team on the floor that was made up almost entirely freshman and first-year college players.
That team won 11 games.
Last year, with many of those same players still on the roster, Berea won 15 games and had a 7-8 regular-season record in the Kentucky Intercollegiate Athletic Conference.
This year, the expectations are higher.
The Mountaineers return almost their entire roster — including a core group of players who have started almost every game the past two seasons — and have added several new players who definitely should make a big impact.
“I noticed a big difference in our kids when they went from freshmen to sophomores,” Berea coach John Hemenway said. “Now I’m hoping to see a big difference as they go from sophomores to juniors. They’ve got more strength, experience and they’ve showed improvement across the board. Last year, I thought we made a little bit of jump. Now, I’d like to see them to take a little bit bigger jump.”
The Mountaineers return three double-digit scores from last season — sophomore guard Seth Beckham, junior guard Aaron Ponder and junior forward Tevin Webster.
Beckham did not become eligible until January. He only played in 17 games, but still averaged 17.8 points a game.
Ponder, a Berea native, took over at point guard early in the season. He will be moved back to the wing this year, which is his more natural position.
Ponder was one of the top three-pointer shooters in the state in high school at Madison Southern and hit a team-best 75 threes last season while averaging 12.2 points a game.
“He did a nice job filling in at point guard,” Hemenway said of Ponder. “We were just trying to find different combinations.”
Koty Riley and Deon Banks split time in the post last season. Riley (6-foot-4, junior) averaged 9.6 points and 3.4 rebounds a game, while Banks (6-foot-5, senior) added 7.5 points and 3.1 rebounds a game.
But, Riley recently suffered a significant shoulder injury and will likely miss the entire season.
“We got pretty good production out of those guys, if though they were a little bit undersized,” Hemenway said of his post players.
Webster averaged 11.4 points and team-best 8.2 rebounds a game last season. He started 30 games in 2012-13, but will have to compete with a newcomer for playing time this year.
London Moore transferred to Berea from the University of the Kentucky last season. He practiced with the team, but was never able to clear up some eligibility issues. He has been cleared and the sophomore forward should be a big addition to the Mountaineers’ roster.
“He’s a 6-foot-4 athlete,” Hemenway said. “He will probably be one of the better athletes in the KIAC. We are trying to figure out if we want him at the three or four. He will definitely make an impact.”
Two newcomers will battle for the playing time at point guard — Daishon Robinson, a junior transfer from Lakeland Community College, and Anthony Myrks, a sophomore from Bardstown who redshirted last season.
Jalen Simmons, a transfer from Waycross College, and three freshmen from Ohio — Ethan Harris (forward), Richard Parker (guard) and Corey Wise (guard) — should also be in the mix for playing time.
Rashad Hayden (junior guard) and Dominique Garmon (junior guard) both made significant contributions last season but are expected to be redshirted this year.
Hayden started 24 games in 2012-13 and averaged 8.0 points a game. Garmon appeared in 31 games and averaged 7.3 points a game.
“We are hoping to be more consistent this year and simply play better basketball as we go through the season,” Hemenway said. “I think we peeked a little early last year before we got to February. This year we finish with four out of our last five at home and we want those games to be meaningful.”
The Mountaineers are set to open the season Friday against Lindenwood University-Bellevue at Asbury University Classic in Wilmore.