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VSU basketball holds first official practice

Written By: Shane Thomas 

The late Rodney Dangerfield said it best: “No respect, no respect at all.”

On Monday, the Valdosta State Blazers men’s basketball team was picked to finish sixth in the Gulf South Conference in the league coaches’ poll, a spot lower than last season.

The Blazers went 16-12 last season but finished strong, advancing to Gulf South Conference tournament semifinals before bowing out in a heartbreaker to eventual champion North Alabama.

With their season tipping off in less than a month, the Blazers took to the floor for their first official practice Wednesday.

The Blazers will be led by GSC leading shot-blocker Colin Cook and dynamic perimeter weapon Blake Justice, who took to Twitter to voice his opinion on his team’s low ranking.

“More fun bein the underdog,” Justice tweeted.

Head coach Mike Helfer, entering his tenth season at VSU, admits he puts little stock in preseason rankings.

“Throughout my career, I’ve never looked at the preseason polls,” Helfer said. “A lot of that goes off what you did last year, who you have coming back. A lot of it has nothing to do with the new guys on every team.

“We always want to play to win the GSC. Everyone starts 0-0 and you’ve just got to try to achieve that goal of winning the conference.”

Helfer has retooled with 10 newcomers around six returners for the upcoming season and spoke highly of his group.

“When you hang around these guys, the one thing you notice right away is that they’re a very close-knit group,” Helfer said. “Hopefully, that type of off-court chemistry will carry onto the court and if that happens, you’ve got a little bit of a head start on a lot of teams at this time of year.”

Headlining the list of new Blazers is Toledo transfer Josh Lemons, Savannah State product Jeremiah Hill, Central Community College transfer James Spencer, and versatile 6-foot-10 German import Nils Dejworek.

“I like our guards,” Helfer said. “We have very good decision-making guards—we have skilled guards that can do multiple things. I really like our point guard play in terms of knowing when to distribute, when to score, and when to get us into something so I think that will carry over (into games).”

The combination of Dejworek and Spencer gives the Blazers dual inside-outside threats, a rare dimension in the GSC.

“When you have somebody like Nils who’s 6’10 that can do a lot of different things, that’s always a tough matchup,” Helfer said. “I like all of our bigs. Colin (Cook) has done a great job, especially from the defensive end. James Spencer will add a lot to our versatility of guys that can step inside and out.

“I think when you have that ability, even if you don’t use it all the time, you’re still a threat and other teams have to prepare for it.”

The Blazers opens the 2014-15 season Nov. 14 against the Lane College Dragons as part of the Holiday Inn Classic.

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