Time To Move On: Racers put expectations aside, set sights on season

With the memory of a season for the ages still fresh in their minds, the Racers are putting the past behind them and focusing on a new team and a new season. || File Photos

With the memory of a season for the ages still fresh in their minds, the Racers are putting the past behind them and focusing on a new team and a new season. || File Photos

Six months removed from the most successful season in 87 years of Murray State men’s basketball, Head Coach Steve Prohm and company are gearing up for a fresh start.

Coming off the historic 31-2 record in 2011-12, this year’s team will feature an interesting blend of new faces and returning leadership. Boasting six freshmen and six seniors, the Racers will work to develop a style of play that incorporates both their new faces and seasoned veterans.

The incoming freshman class features both size and speed, including 6’8” forward Zay Henderson from Monroe, La., and 6’1” guard C.J. Ford from Fayetteville, N.C., who averaged 23 points per game last season as a senior for his Westover High School team.

With senior forward Latreze Mushatt expected to miss most of the season with an Achilles injury, and considerable speculation surrounding the future of sophomore guard Zay Jackson after his September arrest, Prohm will rely heavily on the six freshmen.

“I like (the freshman class),” Prohm said. “They’re great kids and all have tremendous character. It’s tough to see how they’re going to transition until we can get the entire team out on the practice floor, but I like the upside of some of our big guys, and it’s looking like at least three of the six (freshmen) are going to have to step in right away and play some quality minutes for us.”

One of the most important decisions affecting this year’s team came last April when then-junior All-American guard Isaiah Canaan announced he would forego the NBA Draft and return for his senior season. Prohm said he was pleased with Canaan’s decision to play out his final season as a Racer.

“During the whole process, I just tried to gather as much information as I possibly could for him,” Prohm said. “I just wanted to do all I could to help him and his family make the decision they thought was best for him. I was going to support him 100 percent either way, but I’m excited he is returning. It’s tremendous for this program and our school to have him leading us for another year, and I just hope we can have a successful season to send him and Ed and the rest of the seniors out in the right way.”

Senior guard Isaiah Canaan, top, announced his decision to return to Murray State for his senior season on Sirius XM Radio on April 4. His presence may bring needed leadership to a team with six freshmen, several of whom could play significant minutes as a result of injury and the graduating seniors.

After remaining the last unbeaten team in the nation, and losing only one regular season game, last year’s unprecedented run leaves the young team facing enormous expectations both locally and nationally. From the program’s first potential preseason top 25 ranking to a tough opening tournament in Charleston, the team will be in the national spotlight from the first week of the season onward.

“There is definitely a lot of hype and excitement, and understandably so, but there wasn’t any hype last year and we had a tremendous season,” Prohm said. “Hype doesn’t win games. We’re just concerned with this year and our focus right now is to make sure this team is fundamentally sound.”

While the players and coaches may not be focusing on the attention, ESPN has taken notice, announcing last week that Murray State will be one of 13 schools televised on ESPNU’s Midnight Madness program on Oct. 12, the first possible day the teams are allowed to begin practicing together. The team will host Racer Madness, which serves to excite the fan base and introduce the new team.

“It’s great for our school to get the notoriety and attention that comes with being on ESPNU,” Prohm said. “It’s great for our league and our fans and to get the students excited. Racer Madness is going to get the buzz going and we want at least 5,000 there that night to fill the lower bowl.”

In addition to a large crowd at Racer Madness, Prohm said he hopes to see the same excitement and dedication the fans displayed last season.

“I hope to see the same energy we had in that arena last year,” Prohm said. “I hope when we walk out for both the exhibition and the first game against Brescia, we can add another game to our consecutive sell-out list. We’re going to need that environment to help this young team.”

Prohm and his team remain excited and ready to embark on the next chapter in this program’s long and storied history.

“This program has been so good for so long,” Prohm said. “It’s been a lot more than just one season and it’s a testament to a lot of players and coaches who were here long before any of us.”

The basketball team will host Racer Madness at 9:15 p.m. on Oct. 12 in the CFSB Center for a nationally televised audience. The Racers will play an exhibition at home, against Freed-Hardeman on Nov. 5, before opening the 2012-13 season against Brescia at the CFSB Center on Nov. 9.

Jonathan Ferris, Sports Editor