With 11 newcomers and a new head coach one might look past the 2013-14 McMurry University men's basketball team.
However, don't tell that to new head man Clif Carroll. Carroll, who honed his craft as assistant coach at Texas Tech University under Bob Knight and with Pat Knight at Lamar University. Carroll believes he has the roster that can win right now and compete in the Heartland Conference.
"This is definitely not a rebuilding project by any means," said Carroll, who will be a head coach for the first time in 2013-14. "We have 11 newcomers, but four of them are transfers who should earn immediate playing time."
Carroll is high on junior Hondo Webb (Denison, Texas/Melissa HS) and the two have an interesting history together.
Prior to Carroll's stint at Lamar he recruited Webb out of high school to Collin County Community College. After Carroll accepted the assistant coaching position at Lamar, he recruited Webb to Lamar. Shortly after Carroll was announced as McMurry's coach in April, Webb informed Carroll that he wanted to join him in Abilene.
"Hondo (Webb) is a great, great kid," Carroll said. "He's mentally prepared and he's a smart kid and that's why he's going to be successful. He knows what I expect and there's a trust factor that we share."
Other newcomers that will play key roles for the War Hawks are Thiago Randazzo (Brazil/Impact Academy), Kourtney Goff (Rochester, New York/Southern Illinois University), Will Adams (Philadelphia, Pa./Baltimore C.C.) and Jordan Holmes (Silsbee, Texas/Silsbee HS).
"I'm excited to see what the group is going to do over the course of the season," Carroll said. "Overall, it's a nice mix of talent and experience. Each student-athlete brings a different skill set to the team and it's going to fun to see it all come together."
Despite a crowd of new War Hawks, Carroll is high on three big returners – literally.
Seniors Alfred Perez (Spring, Texas /Klein Collins HS) and Cameron Saville (Fort Worth, Texas / North Crowley HS) both stand at 6-foot-8 and provide a strong post presence. Junior forward Connor Robinson (Austin, Texas/Bowie HS) returns and is expected to earn significant playing time.
"We definitely return size and experience with Alfred (Perez), Cameron (Saville) and Connor (Robinson)," Carroll said. "Big men that you can lean on are hard to come by at the NCAA Division II level and this trio has talent and are leaders. Even though they are holdovers, they are the type of players I would recruit to McMurry. I'm fortunate to have them on the roster."
Defense, Carroll said, is going to be a pillar of the War Hawk program.
"Defense is all about effort and discipline," Carroll said. "In basketball teams can go on a offensive run and just as easily go cold. That's just basketball. Defense is something that you can control because you do control your effort and discipline."
The 2012-13 version of the War Hawks finished 19-10 overall and10-8 in the Heartland Conference. Carroll expects to match and improve upon the successes of last year. The University of Arkansas-Fort Smith won the regular season title and St. Mary's University won the postseason conference tournament, which is an example of the parity within the Heartland.
"When I look across the Heartland Conference there isn't a team out there that's just leaps and bounds above everyone else," Carroll said. "Conference play is going to be a grind you're probably going to see a lot of close games. We are going to have to play smart and efficient basketball day-in and day-out. "
"This is home to me and I'm excited to be here," Carroll said when looking to the future. "McMurry is the perfect situation. To be successful here you must put as much time into your academics as much as your sport and that's important. Graduating players and setting them up for future successes is just as and even more important than winning basketball games."
The War Hawks open their season Friday at 7 p.m. against Open Bible College at Kimbrell Arena.
Information for this story provided by McMurry Athletics.