Following a 2011-12 season in which the Racers won their first 23 games, posted a program best 31-2 record and came within minutes of the University’s first ever Sweet 16 appearance, expectations were high to begin the 2012-13 basketball season.
After a long regular season in which the Racers struggled to find consistency, Isaiah Canaan, Ed Daniel and company came up short, blowing a 7-point lead in the final two minutes of the OVC championship game against Belmont.
As Belmont guard Kerron Johnson drained the championship-winning basket in overtime, the careers of the most successful class in program history came to a heartbreaking close.
The six familiar faces of Canaan, Daniel, Stacy Wilson, Brandon Garrett, Latreze Mushatt and Jordan Burge walked off the court for the final time and left an entire fan base wondering the same question: what’s next?
Enter a 2013-14 squad full of unfamiliar faces and minimal in-game experience.
Though many have labeled this season a transition year, senior Dexter Fields is not buying it.
Fields, the lone senior and only returning starter, has taken on the unquestioned role as the team’s leader.
“I hope I can look back when it’s done and say I led a young group of guys to a championship,” Fields said. “I really just want to make these guys happy.”
The Racers’ backcourt took a big hit before the season even began as sophomore guard Zay Jackson sustained a season-ending knee injury and subsequently left the program.
The departure of Jackson forces the Racers to hand over the reins to Cameron Payne, a true freshman out of Bartlett, Tenn. The lone freshman of the 2012-13 recruiting class, Payne averaged 20 points and 10 assists while leading his high school team to a Tennessee state championship.
Payne looks to translate his high school success over to the college ranks as he takes over the Murray State offense.
“He’s very gifted offensively, very skilled and has good basketball I.Q.,” Head Coach Steve Prohm said. “The biggest thing for a freshman is to understand how you have to play on the defensive end. It’s going to be a process, but I’m really excited about his future.”
Payne will likely be the Racers’ starting point guard, at least until the Dec. 17 matchup against Southern Illinois when Clemson transfer T.J. Sapp becomes eligible to play. Prohm said Sapp may play point guard or may contribute in other roles as well.
The Racers will also feature an entirely new frontcourt this season. Juniors Jarvis Williams and Jonathan Fairell transferred from junior colleges to fill the void left by Daniel, Garrett and Mushatt.
Williams, a 6’8” Gordon State Junior College transfer, averaged 19 points and 10 rebounds per game as a sophomore. In his first season with the Racers, Williams will immediately fill a starting role and will be relied upon to provide a dominant presence in the paint on both sides of the ball.
Fairell, a 6’7” transfer out of Indian River State College, finished fourth in rebounds among all Division I Junior College schools last season, and scored 17.7 points per game.
The presence of the two big forwards in addition to returning sophomore forwards Zay Henderson and Terron Gilmore off the bench gives the Racers promising depth in the front court. With the injury of Jackson and the ineligibility of transfer guards Sapp and Justin Seymour, Murray State fans should anticipate action in the paint this season.
In what is sure to be a season of change and adjustment, Prohm said the expectations will stay the same for Murray State basketball.
“The goal won’t ever change,” Prohm said. “It can’t. Our goal is always to win as many games as possible in the nonconference, take care of business in our side of the conference, win a conference championship and get back to the NCAA Tournament.”
The quest for the conference championship and NCAA Tournament berth begins tonight as the Racers travel to Valparaiso.
Story by Jonathan Ferris, Staff writer