LAGRANGE – The LaGrange College Panthers will have a different look next season.
When the men’s basketball team opens its season in November, two players who’d been a part of so many special moments over the years will not be there.
Senior guards Braxton Ford and Mark Wagner helped the Panthers win back-to-back USA South tournament championships in 2014 and 2015, and the team made three straight trips to the NCAA Division III national tournament.
Fortunately for the Panthers, one of the players they do have coming back is guard Justyn Olson.
Olson, a LaGrange High graduate, is preparing for his senior season, and he is coming off a phenomenal junior season where he led the Panthers in scoring.
This summer, Olson said he’s been “working out, shooting and everything, just getting ready for next year. It should be a good year for us. We’ll see.”
Olson didn’t begin his college career in LaGrange.
After two exceptional seasons at LaGrange High, Olson signed with Central Georgia Technical College.
Following one season at the Macon school, Olson was ready for a change, and he ended up returning home and joining a LaGrange College program that was on the upswing.
The Panthers won the USA South tournament title in 2014, and the following season, Olson joined a loaded team.
Olson averaged 10.9 points per game during the 2014-2015 season, and he helped the Panthers capture a second consecutive USA South tournament championship.
Olson really took off last season.
He played and started all 29 games, and he scored a team-high 16.7 points per game, and he also led the team in steals and assists and was among the team leaders in rebounds.
Part of the reason Olson chose LaGrange College was because of the system the team employed.
Under head coach Kendal Wallace and associate head coach David McGreal, the Panthers are a run-and-gun team that has been among the NCAA Division III leaders in scoring the past few seasons.
“It’s run and go, and it never really lets up,” Olson said. “Everything about (the system) fits perfectly.”
When Olson is in the game, he goes all out, which he’s able to do in part because he gets plenty of rest.
Last year, Olson averaged 27 minutes per game, which means he was getting 13 minutes on the bench to get re-charged.
“You can rest up,” Olson said. “I really like it, and we’re going to keep that mentality of full press and go for it. I love it here. It’s way better than half court in my opinion. It keeps it exciting.”
While Wagner and Ford will be missed, the cupboard is hardly bare.
In addition to Olson, Alex Bonner also returns after scoring 12.5 points per game last season while leading the team in rebounding.
Drew Vanderbrook, who scored 11.3 points per game last season, also returns, as do a host of talented players who will be getting a lot more playing time this winter.
One of the players Olson thinks is ready to take a major step up is Elijah Adedoyin, who provided a spark off the bench last season while playing 12 minutes a game.
“Elijah is going to be a big player for us,” Olson said. “And I think some of our JV that were freshmen, they’re going to be key for us. I like to think of it as we’re reloading. It should be a good year for us. We’ll see.”
Whatever happens next season, Olson is thrilled with his decision to come to LaGrange College.
“It’s made my entire life,” Olson said. “From where I was, it’s unreal.”
Reach Kevin Eckleberry at (706) 884-7311 or on Twitter @lagrangesports