Kendal Wallace is in his second year as the Panther head coach after coming from Maryville (Tenn.) College, a conference rival.
LaGrange College is in its first season as a member of the USA South conference.
Christopher Newport University, Greensboro and Maryville were selected to place ahead of LaGrange. Christopher Newport is the defending regular-season and tournament champions in the conference.
The Panthers, meanwhile, were 12-15 last season and were picked to finish fourth in the conference.
The winner of the conference tournament receives an automatic bid to the NCAA Division III national tournament, which is one of the reasons why the LaGrange College Board of Trustees approved the switch from the Great South Athletic Conference, which had fewer teams and no automatic bids to the NCAA tournament in men’s sports.
“Practice is going pretty well,” Wallace said. “The team definitely has quite a few new faces and quite a few old faces. It kind of has a veteran and incoming newbie kind of look. It’s going to be a little bit different than last year. I’m very happy with the way the first week of practice went.”
Indeed, the team does have a number of new faces including nine freshmen and five transfers.
LaGrange also returns four of the top six scorers from a year ago that will anchor this year’s effort, including senior Marcus Vaughn, who has a career average of 11 points and eight rebounds a game, and he scored a career-best 12.4 points per game last season.
His game high in points as a Panther was 24 against Piedmont on Jan. 14, 2011, and he has had two games with 15 rebounds.
Vaughn is a 6-foot-3 forward out of Columbia High School in Lithonia, and he was named to the all-conference team his sophomore and junior seasons.
“I see a bright senior season for him,” Wallace said. “He and I have sat down and talked about his goals on what he wanted to do this year and I think most of all he wanted to do whatever the team needs him to do. I think he’s going to try to average a double-double this season, being points and rebounds, the rebounding being the biggest aspect of it.”
Also returning is sophomore floor general Kyron Anderson out of Central Gwinnett High School in Lawrenceville, who was the Georgia Basketball Coaches Association newcomer of the year in Division III in the state.
“He’ll be returning and he’s my point guard,” Wallace said of Anderson. “He’s quite a bright spot.”
The six-footer averaged 19 points per game in his freshmen year, and he had a .515 field-goal average and also hit 10-of-33 3-point shots. He averaged 73 percent from the free-throw line.
Denzel Robinson, a 6-3 junior wing man, also returns to the team.
Robinson, out of Kendrick High in Columbus, is one of the players who brings his lunch pail to work each night he plays, according to Wallace.
Robinson was named by his teammates as defensive player of the year his freshmen and sophomore years.
“He’s one of the best defenders in our league,” Wallace commented. “He was one of those guys that does everything the team needs as well.”
Robinson has grabbed 195 rebounds both offensively and defensively in his 54 game appearances as a Panther.
Nick Mitchell, a 6-3 sophomore from Buford High School in Buford, rounds out the top returning scorers from last year.
Mitchell was averaging about 20 minutes of playing time per game as a freshmen before he was sidelined the entire month of February with an illness.
“We lost two or three games during that time I thought we could have won with him in the game, but he’s very vital to us as well,” Wallace said.
The Panthers will rely on a pair of transfers as well as two freshmen to fill a void in the paint.
Wallace feels the player who could make the biggest impact is Patrick Dugger, a 6-7 junior from Fayetteville who transferred from Faulkner as a sophomore and also played at Valdosta State his freshmen season.
“He’s just a great kid. He has a great attitude,” Wallace praised. “He plays well within the team, but he’s one of those kids who can get 20 and 10 (20 points, 10 rebounds) any night he wants it. I’m very impressed with him.”
Wallace also said Lincoln Bennett, a 6-6 freshman from Tallahassee, Fla., and Mike White, a 6-7 freshman from Gulf Breeze, Fla. will be learning the ropes and adding depth to the team’s dynamics.
LaGrange will open the season on Nov. 17 at home against Berry College.