Blazer basketball begins its 60th season Friday night against the Lane College Dragons.
With the preseason coming to a close, the Blazers are eager to see a different opponent than themselves.
“It’s gotten to the point now where you’re tired of going against each other over and over again,” junior guard Blake Justice said. “It’s nice to see new guys out there. We’ve heard a little bit about Lane so we just want to come out and have a good showing the first night.”
Lane, a member of the Southern Intercollegiate Athletic Conference (SIAC), finished 3-20 last season and struggled defensively throughout.
The Dragons surrendered 84.3 points per game and 50.4 percent shooting to their opponents while getting outscored by 10.8 points per game on average.
Blazers head coach Mike Helfer has long maintained the present is all that matters when a new season begins.
Written By: Shane Thomas
“In these early games, I think you have to throw out last year’s stats,” Helfer said. “Every team can change throughout the course of the year. When you really don’t have a lot of video or knowledge of exactly what teams are going to do, it’s important to make sure you’re prepared to do what you do best and hopefully do that often.”
Justice, a sharpshooting transfer from Akron, saw his first season with the Blazers suffer from a frustrating combination of hot flashes and the chills; Justice shot 38.5 percent from the floor and just 31.9 percent from three-point range on the season.
Looking noticeably lighter than last season, Justice feels his improved conditioning will make him a more potent weapon as the season wears on and spoke of the expectations for the team this season.
“One of my goals personally was to come back in better shape,” Justice said. “It’s a long season, legs get heavy, you kind of go through ups and downs where you’re not as consistent shooting-wise. Being in shape is definitely going to help.
“Team-wise, I think we’ve got a good team. I don’t want to say anything too outrageous right now but I expect high things out of us.”
The Blazers start the season with a back-to-back set as the Albany State Rams visit The Complex Saturday night.
The Rams have developed into a non-conference rival in recent seasons, a rivalry intensified by the Blazers’ 91-89 overtime win in Albany last season.
“There’s some positives and negatives (to the back-to-back),” Justice said. “You might not play well the first night, then the positive is you get to turn around and make up for it the next night. The negative is you get the short recovery and less planning time.
“Albany is one of those teams where we went to their place and ended up winning in overtime so it’s an inner rivalry. They’ve got some guys back, we’ve got some guys back—it’s kind of bragging rights for the rest of the year so it’s a big game. We’re preparing for Lane first, but at the same time, Albany’s in the back of our heads.”
For Helfer, entering his tenth season as Blazers head coach, the challenge of a new season is exciting and having two games in two days is something to embrace.
“I don’t really look at it as my tenth season,” Helfer said smiling. “Each season brings its own challenges and rewards so I’m just looking forward to another season and getting ready for Friday night.”
Tip-off for Friday’s game is scheduled for 8 p.m. following the conclusion of the Lady Blazers’ opener vs. Eckerd. The Blazers host Albany State at 8 p.m. on Saturday.