Photo by Tyler Lamb / MTSU Sidelines
The familiar sound of squeaking sneakers, constructive criticism and bouncing basketballs rang throughout Murphy Center on Oct. 9, as the Middle Tennessee Blue Raiders held their first practice of the 2017-18 season.
The Blue Raiders are looking to build off the success of two consecutive seasons that resulted in two Conference USA Championships, 56 wins and two upset victories in the NCAA Tournament against Big Ten opponents.
The team is only returning three starters from last season’s record-breaking, 31-win team, and they’ve added some new faces to fill the void left by last year’s seniors.
“(Reggie Upshaw and JaCorey Williams) were as good as any two forwards in college basketball last year … Nick King is going to really help and bring some maturity,” said Head Coach Kermit Davis. “Brandon (Walters) and Karl (Gamble) have got to really step up in a big way, and I think they are making improvements.”
This also marked the first practice ever for King, a transfer from Alabama. He is looking to fill the void of Williams and Upshaw, who combined to average 31.7 points and 14.1 rebounds last season.
“I’ve just been trying to get in the best shape possible and try to catch on quickly, so I can be a vocal leader and lead by effort,” King said.
The senior also feels confident that he has found a school where he can fit right in and pick up where Upshaw and Williams left off.
“Coach Kermit and my teammates put me in good positions to score, so I’m not worried about the offensive end. On the defensive end, I can guard multiple positions, and that’s one thing JaCorey and Reggie could do,” King said. “I just have to come in, play confident, stay humble and get the job done with my teammates.”
Even after losing two starters, the Blue Raiders will return a couple starting guards who each have some big-game experience.
“One thing we do have is veteran guards. We have guys like Tyrik Dixon, Giddy Potts and Ed Simpson,” Davis said. “Any time you (have) experienced guards who have played in big games, that can be a big help.”
Some of his players will see an increased role this year, especially regarding leadership. Dixon believes that he can step up and be more of a leader now that he has one year of being the starting point guard under his belt.
“I try to be more vocal than I was last year because, last year, I didn’t have to talk that much; I just ran the offense,” Dixon said. “This year, I’ve got to help the new guys and even some of the older guys get to the right spots and be the floor general.”
Dixon, as well as Potts and Simpson, promise to be the experienced leaders as the trio started 23 games together last season. They combined for 24.4 points per game, and led the team in assists a season ago.
The outlook on the season is full of excitement and the Blue Raiders are gearing up for another spectacular season, as the quest for a C-USA three-peat is officially underway.
Follow MTSU Sports Reporter Elijah Campbell on Twitter at @E_Campbell3
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