Purnell: We are obviously very excited. I've got some butterflies now and that's a good thing because that means the season is upon us. Our training camp and practices have been pretty good. We open up with Arkansas State a team we are finding out a lot about but that's going to be difficult because they have so many new players but they return their leading scorer, Wells, who's averaging about 24 or 25 points a game. They've got two guys that can put the ball in the basket. They kind o remind me of our team in terms of athleticism. The rest of the teams in the tournament we aren't going to be concerned with right now because of Arkansas State. The second game though we will play Monmouth. The third game we will play Old Dominion. It's going to be a challenge from the start. Three games in three days is something we aren't used to at this point. Usually you play a game and you have a couple of days before your next game. We don't have that luxury at this type of event. At the same time we'll find out a lot about our team, our effort and our depth. We'll start with Vernon Hamilton at the point guard position. Senior point guard and co-captain. Cliff Hammonds will be at the other guard spot. At the three spot we'll go with another experienced guy- Sam Perry, a junior. At the four spot we'll go with James Mays. I know he's anxious to get started. At the five spot, we are starting Trevor Booker, although I liken it to starting two forwards. He's proven in the preseason that he can rebound and defend at this level.
You mentioned Booker, is he the perfect fit at that position given his versatility?
Purnell: I think that he is. He's a pretty strong kid now at 230 pounds that will probably end up at 240, 245 before he's done. He can put the ball on the floor and can get out on the wing and guard. I think he does fit what we are looking for in our big players because he's versatile and can do a number of things.
Do you have a feasible goal this year and what have you told your team that goal is?
Purnell: Yes. We talked about it from the opening meeting going to the NCAA Tournament. We continue to talk about that each time we get together.
You always talk about making progress but is this year harder considering your goals and what the next step for this program should be?
Purnell: Well it's been hard every step of the way but I don't know if its harder. It's all difficult when you look at the league lineup. You look at the balance in the league. As you look at who might be the two best teams on paper, then behind that all the teams are bunched up together. There are a lot of teams returning tremendous talent and the ones that don't have tremendous talent. It's always been good.
Talk a little bit about Vernon Hamilton and his development during your time here.
Purnell: I'm extremely proud of Vernon. No one in this league gives you a break. That's a tough spot for a freshman point guard and every year he's gotten better we've gotten better. We are expecting a career year out of him. So we ask him to do what he's always done and that is to get better.
What is your back up point guard situation like behind Vernon?
Purnell: We feel pretty good that Cliff Hammonds and K.C. Rivers can handle the point for a short period of time. We feel pretty good about that question… and those two have played well with Vernon out of the game.
How does the short exhibition season help or hurt you?
Purnell: It's hard to tell until you start. Normally we have another week to 10 days to play. As coaches we've got more to put in. But I think it's good. It's really time to start playing.
When you first brought Booker on board, were you surprised that he was ready to contribute so early?
Purnell: No he really hasn't (surprised). I watched him a lot last year. I felt after watching him in high school that he was the real deal. I mean you never know until you see him out there with your group but he's done a nice job with that. I wouldn't say he's been a surprise.
What gives you the most promise that this team will be a better free-throw shooting team this year?
Purnell: I don't really have any promises until we start. As I look at last year I look at Vernon Hamilton, K.C. Rivers and Cliff Hammonds I think they are all better shooters. I think those guys will shoot them pretty well and hopefully those are the guys that will be handling the basketball down the stretch when we have a lead.
As far as James' [Mays] situation goes and how he handled it, you have to be pretty pleased.
Purnell: I'm pleased for our team and I'm pleased for him. He basically said I made a mistake and here's what I have to do to correct it. At the same time, he's improved his game. He stayed in shape. That's a very good thing.
He said he's been working on his midrange shot, are you fine with him taking more of those shots this year?
Purnell: I think he's probably got more confidence to take it. He's been shooting a few threes here in the preseason. Take what the defense gives you. If they give him the mid range shot then he's got to take it.
What kind of numbers are you expecting out of Mays?
Purnell: Rebounding … James was probably averaging nine rebounds a game last year when he left us. I don't necessarily look for big numbers scoring, what we need from him is rebounding, but I don't look at him as a big scoring numbers guy. But I'll take it.
Purnell Previews Season Opener
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