Fans are also encouraged to arrive at the Henderson Center early to catch the nationally televised volleyball contest between the Herd and the UAB Blazers, which begins at 7 p.m. and shown on CSTV. MU Volleyball is 6-0 in league play and in first place in Conference USA. UAB is on a five-game win steak and beat the Herd 3-2 last year in Birmingham, Ala., but the Herd has not gone to a fifth game in starting with six C-USA wins.
The basketball team, under the direction of first-year head coach Donnie Jones, will then be introduced on the floor about 10 p.m., with a drills session to follow. The three-point shootout and slam dunk competition will have a different format than in years past. Eight lucky fans will be randomly drawn to represent a Marshall player in each skill competition (four in three-point shootout, four in dunk contest). The fan whose player wins each contest will go home with one of two great prizes: a Nintendo Wii game system or a VIP trip for two to the Marshall at Louisville game that includes dinner, lodging and tickets. The Henderson Center crowd will serve as judges for the dunk contest. Following the skill contests the team will compete in a 15-minute scrimmage that will wrap up around 11:30 p.m.
In addition, fans will have the opportunity to buy season tickets for the upcoming season, a package that includes 17 regular season home contests and two exhibition games. Call 1-800 THE HERD or visit www.HerdZone.com for information on season tickets, starting as low as $95, or $5 per home contest.
The Herd returns eight letter winners and three starters. Returning for their final season are senior center Jean Francois Bro Grebe (6-foot-9, 230-pounds) and guard Mark Dorris (6-2, 180). Dorris averaged 13.6 points per game, led the team in three-point shooting percentage (35.6 percent) and was in double-figures in scoring in the final nine games and 16 of the last 17. Bro Grebe blocked 65 shots in addition to 104 rebounds and 128 points scored. Also returning from the starting lineup is two-time All-Conference USA junior Markel Humphrey (6-5, 225). Humphrey led the team with 14.0 points and 6.5 rebounds per game last season under former head coach Ron Jirsa. Other returners include senior guard Taurean Marshall (6-3, 190/0.6 ppg & 21 assists); junior center Jesse Oglesby (6-10, 235/0.3 ppg); and sophomores in guard Darryl Merthie (6-0, 190/3.9 ppg); forward Tyler Wilkerson (6-8, 240/2.6 ppg & 3.8 rpg); and center Robbie Jackson (7-0, 265/2.5 ppg & rpg).
Eight newcomers dot the roster, including a transfer from Gonzaga in point guard Pierre-Marie Altidor Cespedes (6-0, 180), who will have one season to play as a senior enrolled in graduate school at MU, is known as "P-Mac". Also coming in are highly-touted freshmen in forward Tirrell Baines (6-6, 210), of The Patterson School, and guard Matt Walls (6-3, 200), from Scott County High School in Georgetown, Ky., winning a state title there. Also coming in is University of Kentucky transfer (and former St. Albans High star) in guard Adam Williams (6-4, 200). Williams, who sat out last season, is the son of MU Hall of Fame member Tex Williams, who played baseball and basketball for the Herd. Forward Bruce Senior (6-6, 230) is also joining the Herd a freshman, following winning an unprecedented three straight AAA state championships in basketball across town for the Huntington Highlanders, playing a number of games already in the Henderson Center with HHS. Walls' Scott Co. team split two games with Senior's Huntington team, which included USC freshman O.J. Mayo and UK center Patrick Patterson.
Other newcomers will have to sit this season as transfers, but will practice with the team. Brandon Powell, a 6-foot-3, 190-pound shooting guard, has joined Jones in leaving the Florida Gators after back-to-back national championships to play at Marshall and will have three years to play, beginning in 2008. Chris Lutz, a 6-foot-2, 190-shooting guard, will be a junior in 2008, and transfers to MU after playing two seasons in the Big Ten for the Purdue Boilermakers. Finally, Octavius Spann joins his brother, MU football receiver Emmanuel, at Marshall. The younger Spann, a 6-foot-6, 220-pound forward, will have three seasons to play after transferring from Georgetown University.
Fans will also meet Jones' staff for the first time, including three other West Virginia natives. Mullens product Shawn Finney is a Fairmont State graduate and was a head coach in C-USA at Tulane University. Finney was an assistant coach for Tubby Smith at Tulsa (1991-95), Georgia (1995-97) and Kentucky (1997-2000) before accepting the head coaching position at Tulane, which he held from 2000-05. He was the Director of Basketball Operations at the University of Kentucky in 2006-07. St. Albans H.S. product Brett Nelson played for Jones at Florida. Nelson, who played at Florida from 1999-2003, is second all-time in three-pointers made (274) and attempted (689). He also ranks second on the Gators' all-time list in steals with 199 and sixth in career assists per game at 3.16, and finished his career in Gainesville with 1,416 points while hitting 82.5 percent of his free throw attempts. He was a member of four of Florida's NCAA Tournament teams, including the 2000 squad that played for the national title. Nelson was named a Preseason Naismith Award Semifinalist during his senior season. In 2003, Nelson continued his playing career competing professionally in Sweden. Nelson played prep ball at St. Albans High School in St. Albans, W.Va., where he set the state career scoring record with 2,199 points in three seasons. As a senior in 1999, the star guard averaged 31.9 points, 7.0 assists and 6.0 rebounds per game. He was named as a McDonald's All-American and competed in the Magic Johnson Round ball Classic in 1999.
Basketball operations director Tim Thomas is from Wheeling and graduated from Wheeling Jesuit. He worked at West Virginia University Institute of Technology from 1994 to 2003, where he served a number of different roles, including head women's basketball coach from 2001-03. He was an assistant men's basketball coach with the Golden Bears from 1994-2001, and in the spring of 2003, he was both the men's and women's head basketball coaches for a span of two months after taking over as the interim head men's basketball coach in February and March of that season. Thomas took the program to a first round home game for the conference tournament, the school's most wins in a decade, and the team's first winning season since 1991-92. Next, Thomas was Athletic Director and associate men's basketball coach at Laurinburg Institute in Laurinburg, N.C. While at Laurinburg, the school produced 30 Division I signees and in 2004-05, they were named the prep school national champions with a 40-0 record after averaging 101.6 points per contest. During his two years at Laurinburg, the team's record was 71-6. For the last two seasons, Thomas has been the Athletic Director and associate head men's prep basketball coach at the Patterson School in Patterson, N.C. Patterson was 34-3 in 2005-06 and in 2006-07, 35-4, making Thomas' record in the last four years an astounding 140-13 at the prep school level. He was also the head men's varsity coach in 2005-06, where his team went 25-4.
The only non-Mountain State native assistant coach for the Herd is Darren Tillis. Tillis, a 1982 NBA first-round draft pick for the Boston Celtics, played two years in the NBA with the Celtics, Cleveland Cavaliers, and Golden State Warriors, before embarking on a professional career in Europe from 1984-1990. Tillis played in the Italian League from 1984-88, where he won two championships and averaged 20.0 points and 10 rebounds in those championship years, and also played in the Spanish League in 1989-90. Tillis played collegiately at Cleveland State from 1978-82, serving as a four-year starter for a program that averaged almost 18 wins a season. As a senior with the Vikings, Tillis was named a Sporting News Honorable Mention All-American, thanks in part to a 17.3 scoring average and 12.8 rebound average in 1981-82. He is still considered one of the greatest players in Cleveland State history, and ranks first in school history in career blocked shots (171), second in rebounds (1,045) and fourth in scoring (1,423).
Jones is starting his second stint as a MU coach, assisting Dwight Freeman and Billy Donovan in the 1990s before going to UF with Donovan in 1996. He played and coached for former MU head coach and point guard Greg White at Pikeville College, coming out of Point Pleasant (WV) High School. Marshall will open the 2007-08 season with a pair of exhibitions against in-state schools. Nov. 1 the Falcons of Fairmont St. will be in, followed by West Liberty College on Nov. 6. The season opener will be Coach Jones' alma mater, Pikeville College, on Nov. 13.
Marshall will face former Southern Conference foe East Tennessee State on Nov. 20 in the Henderson Center, and on Dec. 4 in Johnson City, Tenn. The Herd meets Boston University for the first-time ever on Nov. 25 at home, then makes the first of only three out-of-conference trips to nearby Dayton, Ohio, to play Wright State on Nov. 28. The Herd returns home for the 92nd meeting in the "I-64 Rivalry" with Morehead State, who MU beat 81-80 last year and leads the series 48-43. Rio Grande, who is 0-11 all-time with the Herd, comes in to Huntington on Dec. 14. Marshall steps up in competition on Dec. 18 when the Herd travels three hours down the road to take on the Big East's Louisville in the 14th meeting all-time between MU and UL, under former UK coach Rick Pitino - who sent a young assistant to the Herd in 1994 from Kentucky in Donovan, who then hired Jones from Freeman's staff at Marshall. The Herd wraps up out-of-conference play, except for the annual Chesapeake Energy Capital Classic in the Mountain State's capital city with West Virginia on Jan. 23 - a women's and men's doubleheader at the Charleston Civic Center at 5:30 p.m. and 8 p.m., respectively - with four home games: Princeton of the Ivy League on Dec. 22; Lipscomb out of the Atlantic Sun Conference on Dec. 29; San Diego of the West Coast Conference on New Year's Eve, Dec. 31; and ring in the new year of 2008 with Winthrop of the Big South Conference on Jan. 5.
C-USA play opens on the road Jan. 9 in Houston, Texas with the Rice Owls, while the Memphis Tigers, expected to be top five ranked if not No. 1 in the nation in the pre-season polls, open the home portion of C-USA play here on Jan. 12. Also coming in from the league are UAB (Jan. 19), Tulsa (Jan. 30, with another West Virginia native in head coach Doug Wojcik, who attended Wheeling Central HS), East Carolina (Feb. 9, with former SC and UT-Chattanooga nemesis Mac McCarthy as interim head coach), Tulane (Feb. 16), UTEP (Feb. 20), UCF (Feb. 23) and Southern Miss (March 8). The C-USA Tournament is in Memphis, Tenn. at the FedEx Forum March 12-15.