Tennessee State University's men's basketball team was picked to finish second in the Ohio Valley Conference this season.
Votes, however, were tabulated before it was revealed junior guard Bruce Price would miss the season after suffering a torn ACL in his left knee for the second straight year.
"I am disappointed for Bruce. He has worked so hard to get back into shape. But we won't let the team use his injury as a crutch. We will use his hard work and dedication as an inspiration," fourth-year Tigers coach Cy Alexander said of the 2004 OVC Freshman of the Year.
Instead of making excuses, the Tigers, who lost at Western Kentucky, 87-69, in their season and Las Vegas Invitational opener on Sunday night, have dedicated the season to Price.
"I feel more frustration for Bruce than I do for myself or the team because the young man has worked tremendously hard to rehab his knee, then all of a sudden it happens again to the exact same knee," Alexander told the Tennessean newspaper.
Price, who was averaging 19.3 points and 5.8 assists through six games last season before tearing his ACL, rehabbed vigorously after surgery then tore the same ACL in a pickup game in September in his home state of Minnesota.
"I was on the court but I wasn't making any moves. I was just standing there, lifted my leg and it popped," Price, the 24th player in school history to top 1,000 points, told the Tennessean.
"I was jumping higher and was stronger than the year before, but there's no point dwelling on it, crying about it."
The Tigers' top player now is 6-foot-7, 250-pound senior Clarence Matthews, who scored 18 points with six rebounds in the opener against Western Kentucky after averaging 13.9 points and 8.5 rebounds a season ago.
Matthews, who hit 54.5 percent of his shots last year, led the Ohio Valley in offensive (3.1 per game) and defensive (5.5) rebounds and was second in the league in blocked shots (1.8 per game).
"Clarence could potentially be the best player in the league. He has the athletic ability," Alexander said of the first-team preseason all league pick.
"He's tremendously gifted and needs to maintain his focus and needs to stay hungry. He needs to stay driven and try to remove the 'potential' label he has on him."
Junior point guard Reiley Ervin is back after averaging 8.7 points and 5.0 assists while taking over for Price his soph season. Ervin had 10 points and four assists but 10 turnovers in Sunday's opener.
"The kid's a winner. He's the key for us," Alexander said. "He's got to be able to give us 28 to 30 minutes of solid basketball at the point guard position every night. He will have to lead this ship."
Larry Turner, a 6-11 senior and transfer from Oklahoma University, averaged 6.0 points and 4.3 rebounds while starting 22 contests a year ago. He had 12 rebounds and seven points versus Western Kentucky.
The team also returns junior guard Andrae Belton (3.4 ppg) and senior forward Courtney Bohannon (3.5 rpg). Mississippi State transfer Jerrell Houston won't be eligible until after first semester.
¢ Up and coming program: Alexander is 34-54 in three seasons at Tennessee State and 311-256 lifetime. His Tigers went 13-15 a year ago - 11-9 in the Ohio Valley regular season and 0-1 in the conference tournament.
"I'm on track for where I want this team," said Alexander, who has led the program to a winning league record in consecutive seasons for the first time in seven years.
"I look at where we're at as phase two. Phase one for me was trying to get the program from the bottom to the middle (of the conference), which we did."
"Now our expectations are, we want to be one of the top three or four teams every year. We want high expectations, because that's what I was brought here to do, was to try to turn this program around. I see it moving in that direction."
¢ Difficult slate: Tennessee State will travel to Alabama on Dec. 2, Middle Tennessee State on Dec. 4 and Auburn on Dec. 19 and Siena on Dec. 28. Ball State will travel to TSU on Dec. 22.
"Tough," Alexander said of the schedule. "It is a very challenging schedule that opens with us being thrown into the frying pan against Western Kentucky and Kansas. Our non-conference games will prepare us for a tremendously tough OVC schedule."