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Men's basketball players, coach anticipate stellar season

Nov. 6, 1997

By Martin Coco

Sports Reporter for The Baylor Lariat

For the first time in a long while, Baylor basketball has people talking. Much is expected this season from Head Coach Harry Miller and the Bears, and Miller previewed the season with guarded optimism on Wednesday.

Baylor is coming off of a much-improved season, one in which the Bears posted their best record (18-12) since 1988. Baylor returns 10 lettermen and brings in a host of stellar recruits to add to a team that narrowly missed a bid to the postseason National Invitational Tournament. The 1997-98 Bears will be the most experienced and deepest team in Miller's four years as head coach, and he is excited.

'We are vastly improved over last season, no doubt about it,' he said. 'We've got a team that if we can stay healthy and keep them all on the floor, will be very competitive in the Big 12.'

Baylor's starting five has always had sufficient talent; Miller said the difference in this team is the depth beyond those five.

'We've got a very competitive situation in our practice sessions, guys battling for playing time,' Miller said. 'That's something that we haven't had the luxury of in the past.'

Senior center Brian Skinner agreed with Miller's optimism about the team's depth.

'In the past, we haven't been able to go much past the sixth man,' Skinner said. 'I think we'll be able to go 10-12 players deep this season.'

Skinner, a preseason All-American, will be Baylor's go-to guy again this season. The 6-11 center averaged over 16 points per game last year and is a lock to be a lottery pick in next spring's NBA draft. The difference this year, though, is that he'll have a stronger supporting cast. Added to the mix of returning players are junior college transfers B.J. Sellers and Jeff Gipson. Sellers is expected to back up senior Patrick Hunter at point guard, and Gipson has impressed coaches so far with his aggressive play and tenacious rebounding.

'Those new guys definitely provide a spark, and bring a lot of size and athleticism to the team,' Skinner said.

Senior leadership will be another strong point for the Bears. Skinner, Hunter, forward Rahsaan Jones and guards Roddrick Miller and John Perkins will contribute both on the floor and off.

'This is the first time we've had this many seniors,' Miller said. 'They bring some intangibles that we really need, like a strong work ethic.'

The Bears also will benefit from having a trio of sophomores who gained valuable playing time last season. Miller is expecting Jamie Kendrick, Leon 'Brick' Morris, and David Jones to contribute early and often.

'It will be key for those guys to step it up,' Miller said. 'They got a lot of playing time last year, so we're expecting them to play well.'

While Miller expects this to be his best team so far, he said that doesn't automatically translate into more wins. In addition to the always-strong Big 12 Conference, the Bears will face a much tougher non-conference schedule, including a showdown with defending national champion Arizona on Dec. 8 at the Ferrell Special Events Center.

Another key factor in the success of this year's team will be the ability to avoid injuries. With the opening game of the season less than two weeks away, the Bears are nursing injuries to several key players, including Skinner (fractured eye socket), guard Roddrick Miller (knee), forward Gabe Ramirez (knee), and forward Rahsaan Jones, who is not expected to return until January from a torn anterior cruciate ligament.

But the overall picture is a positive one for the Bears. The experience gained from a year of Big 12 play, along with the Bears returning one of the conference's most veteran squads, has Miller and his team primed for their best season yet.

'(The experience) is going to help us,' Ramirez said. 'Now we know what to expect from ourselves and the other teams. This should be an exciting basketball season.'

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