Oct. 29, 2008
Rome, Ga. - For head coach Chad Warner, who enters his second season at the helm of the Shorter Hawks men's basketball team, a blue-collar work ethic is what is needed as Shorter gears up for what will be a challenging 2008-09 season.
After leading the team to the second most wins in the school's history last year and an appearance in the NAIA Top 25 poll, he sure has a lot to look forward to.
"We want to build on the success we had last year," Warner said about the Hawks, who after being picked eighth in last year's SSAC preseason coaches' poll was picked to finish third in this year's. "Our schedule is tougher and the conference is better. We're focusing on getting the most out of our potential and maximizing our talent. I'd like to see a more consistent basketball team."
With three key starters included among 10 returning players, along with the addition of four newcomers who could make immediate impacts, Shorter has the talent to make some noise in the SSAC. They want to make the most with knowing they will have the home-court edge come postseason when the school hosts the 2009 Southern States Athletic Conference Tournament.
Giving the Hawks a triple threat once again will be senior guard Tomas Pranciliauskas of Vilnius, Lithuania, senior swing man A.J. Martin of Kennesaw, and senior guard Fred Christopher of Lithonia. The threesome played key roles in Shorter's 19-12 campaign last year and helped the team advance to the semifinals of the SSAC tourney semifinals.
Pranciliauskas is the spearhead of Shorter's attack, having earned All-Conference honors and NAIA All-American status last season after leading the Hawks and the SSAC in scoring (15.7 points a game) and finishing the year as the NAIA's top free-throw shooter by hitting 95 percent of his shots at the foul line.
"He's a great player," Warner said of the 6-foot-4 Pranciliauskas. "He'll be counted on a lot and I am really proud of the way he is trying to lead our team."
Martin returns as a another driving force in Shorter's wheel, proving he could play outside and inside as a guard or forward last year averaging nearly eight points and six rebounds a game, in addition to leading the team with 38 steals.
"A.J.'s the most vital energy piece on our team," Warner said of Martin. "As we recruit this year, we need to find another player who is an energy-giver like A.J. He's in as good a shape as anyone I've coached."
Christopher completes the Hawks' trio of returning starters, having shown that even as a 6-2 guard, he can play anywhere on the court. He averaged 10 points and more than five rebounds last year, and led the team in blocked shots.
"Fred is perhaps the biggest glue piece to our team," said Warner. "Physically, he's an incredible athlete with tremendous strength. Our team really feeds off of Fred's toughness."
Strength is also what Shorter will have at forward, where Martin will be joined by 6-4 senior Darius Williams of Lawrenceville, and 6-5 sophomore Montagious Brown of Union City. Williams returns after averaging seven points a game last year, while Brown was named to the SSAC All-Freshmen team and found time during the season to become the NAIA's national indoor high jump champion.
"Darius really brings a lot to the table for us," Warner said of Williams. "When he plays well and consistently, we are clearly a better basketball team. Montagious, who has had a good preseason, is a guy who can do multiple things for us. We are counting on continued growth by him this year."
Three players who saw action last year will be asked to step into the point guard role - senior Daniel Hendricks of Fairburn, senior Chris Severt of Buford, and junior Brodrick Walker of Stone Mountain.
"They've all played and all have experience," Warner said. "They need to offer us sound decisions and leadership this year, and I think they will."
"Jamie does everything we ask and continues to get stronger because we put him in a position to play against bigger and stronger players," said Warner, "Tim is ready to use his experience if we call upon him."
So will sophomore Corey Edmondson, a former standout at Coosa High in Rome, who sat out last year but is ready to give the Hawks an outside threat.
"The year off was great for him," Warner said of Edmondson. "He needs to be prepared to play when we call on him because he can provide an offensive spark."
Shorter will get even bigger lifts from three NCAA Div. I transfers who complete the building process. Joining the team are 6-10 senior Qavotstaraj Waddell of Norfolk, Va., who came to Shorter from Tennessee-Chattanooga, 6-9 junior Mantas Leonavicius, who played at Hofstra, and sophomore Edwin Ofori-Attah of Berlin, Germany, whom Warner says offers the team an explosive scoring threat.
While Warner knows that his team will be working even harder to build on gathering momentum, he also knows that the coaching staff on the bench has dedicated themselves to continue the newfound positive attitude.
Bryce Brickhouse, a former North Georgia standout, joins the Hawks as an assistant coach this season and once again another Warner will sit beside the head coach as an assistant - his dad Charles Warner, who has been at the side of his son throughout his career.
Tyler Murray rounds out the staff as a first year assistant after closing out his playing career at Hampden-Sydney College, where Warner served as an assistant.
"Your team mirrors and models themselves based on your behavior," Warner said about the role of all the coaches. "That's why you try to surround yourself with great people and talented coaches."
Shorter's players and coaches know they have to remain focused on what may be an even tougher schedule this season. Beginning Oct. 30, the Hawks face Cumberland (Tenn.) University in the Berry College Classic and the season evolves after that into a rugged slate in the SSAC. Lee College is the odds-on pick to defend its conference championship and make a run at the NAIA national title, one the Flames fell one win short of last year.
"We have to be better in the conference," concluded Warner. "Last year was a good starting point, but it's over now. We have a long way to go and we will keep working hard. To be mentioned at the top of this league, you have to beat the teams at the top, and for us to do that, we will have to play with great poise and passion."