New players come with the territory in college basketball, but
this season nearly every team in the SEC is turning over a third
of its roster. It's hard to predict how starting lineups will
shake down, much less how conference standings will shape up.
It does appear, though, that Kentucky (page 56) and Georgia
(page 96) are safe atop the East, while Mississippi State (page
64) and Arkansas (page 87) should rule the West. Past that,
well, let's just say it won't be boring.
Nowhere is the season-of-change theme more apparent than at
Florida. If the loss of point guard and team MVP Craig Brown two
years ago transformed the Gators from a Final Four team in '94
to a bubble team in '95, coach Lon Kruger must wince when he
considers what the departure of Andrew DeClerq and Dan Cross,
his top inside and outside threats from last season, will do in
The Gators do have a number of talented players returning,
including 6'7", 275-pound Dametri Hill, purveyor of "Da Meat
Hook." Kruger expects Hill to provide scoring inside and assert
himself as the team's new leader. "Dametri is very competitive,"
Kruger says. "People look at him and that's not a word that
comes to mind. But he is."
Junior point guard Greg Williams is back, and sophomore forward
LeRon Williams, Florida's Mr. Basketball in 1994, should be
ready to play a bigger role. A strong freshman class, led by
point guard Eddie Shannon and 6'8" three-point marksman Greg
Stolt, will add depth.
There will be a new look at Tennessee, too, although that became
clear even before last season. Two hours into a practice last
October, guard Chris Brand walked out of the gym without saying
a word to first-year Vol coach Kevin O'Neill. He never came
back. O'Neill's take at the time: "Unless he had to go home and
take a meat loaf out of the oven, I can't understand why he'd be
That incident typified the season, which was marked by
defections of disgruntled players and injuries to content
players. The upshot of the mass exodus is that O'Neill was able
to restock with his own recruits. Seven new faces will join four
returning starters, including 7-foot senior Steve Hamer (15
points, 8.8 rebounds per game). If the newcomers come through,
the Vols should return to respectability.
South Carolina also appears ready to turn the corner, thanks to
an ample supply of young talent led by sophomore guard Melvin
Watson (13.4 points per game). Senior Malik Russell (9.1 points,
6.9 rebounds) is the other returning starter. Heading a cast of
eight newcomers are transfers Nate Wilbourne, a 6'11" junior
from Ohio State, and Larry Davis, a junior guard from North
Carolina. "You have rebuilding, competitive and championship
stages," coach Eddie Fogler says. "I think we are about finished
with rebuilding and are now entering the competitive stage."
As they pass through that stage, the Gamecocks might bump into
Fogler's old team, Vanderbilt, as it continues its descent. Last
season the Commodores' eight-year postseason-appearance streak
ended, and starting a new one won't be easy. Coach Jan van Breda
Kolff has only two proven scorers: underrated senior Frank
Seckar, who averaged 12.8 points per game, and sophomore Drew
Maddux, who averaged 9.5 and was named to the freshman all-SEC
team. But past that pair, the pickings are slim in Music City.
At Auburn, Cliff Ellis has a plan, and he's sticking to it.
"I've stated all along that I have a five-year plan for
rebuilding this program," the Tigers' second-year boss says.
"Anything that happens in the five-year window is gravy."
Last season the Auburn faithful got at least a ladleful of
satisfaction from a 16-13 record and an NIT berth. This season,
with all five starters back, a heartier second helping is all
but assured. Point guard Moochie Norris, who averaged 12.5
points and 4.9 assists per game, teams with senior Lance Weems,
the Tigers' leading scorer, to form one of the conference's top
There may not be much satisfaction at Alabama, where all coach
David Hobbs has to do is replace a couple of NBA first-rounders,
Antonio McDyess and Jason Caffey; the team's second-leading
scorer, Jamal Faulkner; and the starting shooting guard, Artie
Griffin. Point guard Marvin Orange, who averaged 4.3 assists per
game, is the lone holdover starter. Prime candidates for playing
time are 6'9", 280-pound juco transfer Thalamus McGhee inside
and prize recruits Brian Williams and Anton Reese in the
Did someone say backcourt? Down on the bayou, Louisiana State
has one of the best. Sophomore Randy Livingston averaged 9.4
assists per game, while his classmate, Ronnie Henderson,
finished the season as the top scorer in the SEC, averaging 23.5
points per game. One potential problem: Livingston, who
fractured his right kneecap against Arkansas and missed the
final 11 games of the season, is not expected to be 100% until
after New Year's. Coach Dale Brown has good reason to hope he
recovers soon; the Bayou Bengals were 10-6 with him, 2-9 without
Mississippi is the only school in the SEC that has lost more
games in its history than it has won, and this year's Rebels
aren't going to do anything to reverse that. Sophomore forward
Anthony Boone (11.6 points and 5.0 rebounds per game) has a
promising future--unfortunately, it's in Oxford.
COLOR PHOTO: BRIAN SPURLOCK High Court The top of Atlanta's Georgia Dome afforded a long look at the SEC tournament, as Kentucky (in white) battled Florida. [Overhead view of basketball game--T of C]
COLOR PHOTO: JIM GUND LSU's Henderson was the SEC's top gun. [Ronnie Henderson]
COLOR PHOTO: DAMIAN STROHMEYER The Gators expect the mountainous Hill to throw his weight around this year. [Dametri Hill]
1 Kentucky (2)
2 Georgia (19)
5 South Carolina
1 Mississippi State (4)
2 Arkansas (14)