A 1-9 record through the first two months of last season set the stage for the worst record in David Doino’s five seasons at Averett.
The Cougars finished 9-18 with an 8-9 mark in the USA South, products of what Doino called poor habits in November and December.
“I felt that the way we were practicing we were getting what we deserved,” Doino said.
Doino hopes to circumvent those issues this year by holding his players more accountable heading into the 2019-20 season, which begins at 2 p.m. today at Eastern Mennonite University in Harrisonburg.
“I think for this team, being through a lot of adversity last year has really bonded this team together,” Doino said. “We’ve gotten off to a better start as far as how we’ve approached this year from a practice standpoint, and I think that excites our guys.”
Averett was voted to finish third in the USA South’s East Division, but the Cougars are setting their sights higher.
“I think this year we’re a mature team versus recent years when we’ve been in a building stage,” senior forward Tim Henry said. “We were young last year and the year before, but this year we’re mature, and I think we’re ready for all the adversity that’s going to come with the season.”
Averett got its first look at how competitive it can be when it lost an exhibition match up to Division I High Point University by just 11 points Oct. 30.
“I feel like we outworked them most of the game,” sophomore guard Keshawn Lewis said. “They did their job and I think we did ours, but overall it showed we can compete no matter who we go out there with.”
Doino envisions an offense that features Lewis and fellow guard Montre’ Cash, a junior, and forward Isaiah Jones, a sophomore, acting as shooting threats around the perimeter while Henry and 6-foot-6 senior center Moriba Diaby operate in the paint.
Henry returns as the team’s leading scorer at 13.8 per game. Diaby averaged nearly four points last season but had the team’s highest field goal percentage at 54.3. Doino wants to take advantage of the team’s two efficient post scorers and create an inside-out attack.
“We want them to be anchors for us this year,” Doino said. “Some of the guys in our conference at the four position are more pick-and-pop-type guys, more stretch players. To have two guys that can be physical down there, we hope we can use to our benefit and hopefully that’s a formula for success for us.”
Off the bench, Doino identified freshman guard/forward Corey Baldwin and senior guards Ian Best and Vince Contreras as early candidates to be included in an eight-man rotation, but he also offered the idea of using 10 or 11 players depending on how everybody progresses.
Of course, the team wants to be at the top of the conference by the end of the regular season, but Doino acknowledged, “We also know we’re a long way from that. The team we want to be in February, we’re nowhere near that yet.”
Still, the familial bond formed during the preseason has players looking for a successful year.
“This team is gonna be special,” Henry said. “With this being my last year, I want it to be a special one.”
Parker Cotton is a sports reporter at the Martinsville Bulletin and Register & Bee. Reach him at (276) 638-8801 ext. 215. Follow @ByParkerCotton.