SAINT LEO, Fla. – As autumn approaches, Saint Leo University men's basketball Coach Lance Randall sees the start of year number three get underway for a program that has already risen to national recognition in the first two seasons.
With this year's squad of Lions playing under a new banner in the Bowman Center, one denoting the program's 2013 Sunshine State Conference Regular Season Championship, Randall does not see the Saint Leo missing a beat entering this season despite the loss of three starters.
"Our returners, Harris, Girten, Kadima, Griseck, Bell, Mitchell, and Bassett have all made a significant jump in their game this summer," Randall said. "We have added a great balanced recruiting class. I expect this group to be in the nation's top 10 defensively for the third year in a row. I am looking forward to playing our usual high end schedule with the terrific group of young men."
Winning a conference championship in a league that was ranked as the top Division II college conference by Bennett Ranking, the Lions finished the season with the program's most-ever wins (22) and were regularly ranked in the top-25. It is a top-25 yearly expectation that was born on the Lions' perennially tough defense, consistently one of the top Division II defenses in the country, and one that took hold after an exhibition upset of Division I Miami (Fla.) to begin last season.
It is a team that has held the Sunshine State Conference's top-ranked defense since Randall's arrival and one that finished tied for 10th in the nation in field goal percentage defense. This ranking is made even more impressive when it is noted that 11 of the Lions' 25 different opponents last season were ranked in the top-25 at some point in the season.
The expectation level on the Lions' defense is something that will not change despite the change of cast as the program is built upon a strong defense that is always great despite losing certain pieces of the puzzle. It's the ability to quickly replace the missing pieces and not miss a beat that keeps the Lions' looking ahead.
Returning six starters and seven letter-winners from last season's team, the Lions welcome back arguably the best player in the SSC in Jerrel Harris, the only underclassman to earn All-Conference First Team honors last season. Sitting out 2012, Harris's influence was huge in 2013 as he averaged nearly 15 points and looks to become even more of an impact his senior year.
Another returner looking to make a bigger splash this season is Chim Kadima as he comes off a year where he played in 28 games. A player that was a Big 12 commit out of high school, Kadima transferred to Saint Leo prior to the SSC Championship season and comes into 2013-14 the healthiest he has been since suffering an injury his freshman year.
The list of newcomers is as impressive as the Lions' returners and includes four transfers and three freshmen.
Joining the Lions prior to their junior seasons include Ron Foxx, a 6'7" First Team All-Academic player from Division II Miles College in Alabama and Ryan Wilson, another 6'7" player who is a big-time passer and shooter donning the Green and Gold after two seasons at Eastern Wyoming where he was an All-Region player.
Devin Crisosto, a combo guard transfer from Feather River College, was an All-Conference, All-Defensive and All-State team member where he averaged 14.4 points per game. Rounding out the group of transfers is Tony Jones, Jr. a big-time athlete who spent two seasons at Johnson County Community College and was a McDonald's All-American nominee.
Beginning their collegiate careers, Marcus Dewberry, Trail Pierce and Necdet Gurkan look to bring their high school success into the collegiate ranks. Dewberry comes to Saint Leo as a highly recruited player out of Lake Wales High School that turned down multiple Division I offers. Pierce was one of the top 50 high school players from the state of Wisconsin that comes to Saint Leo as a 6'10" very skilled player who has a nice basketball touch. Gurkan, a 6'6" defensive presence, comes from Turkey where he was a top player that led the Turkish league in rebounding.
Randall will join associate head coach J.R. Blount and newest assistant Kaniela Aiona to blend all of these pieces; with this year's puzzle starting full practice in the middle of October. The Lions will start their trek toward another postseason journey when they travel to Puerto Rico to play in a tournament beginning on November 8.