By Matthew Martin/Sports Correspondent
Last season, the Gadsden State men's basketball team came within one game of qualifying for nationals.
Coach Todd Ginn's 2012-13 squad was loaded with sophomores, giving the Cardinals plenty of experience throughout the season, which led to a 23-8 record. Gadsden State lost to Shelton State in the Alabama Community College Conference Tournament.
Ginn was selected as ACCC North Coach of the Year, while graduated guard and Gadsden native Kenric McCants was named ACCC North Division Player of the Year.
Ginn is 107-76 in his six full seasons at Gadsden State. Three of his teams won 20 or more games, and his 2010-11 squad also finished as state runner-up.
If Gadsden State is to advance deep into the ACCC Tournament and possibly the national tournament, however, it will have to do it with a team comprised mainly of first-year players.
Ginn, however, has confidence in the sophomores he does have returning in former Gadsden City Titan Dan Blackburn, Sloan Garner, Christian Treece and Steadman Scott, along with sophomore transfer Jay Watkins.
"All those guys have been through it," Ginn said. "We were really good, last year, and probably should have won that game to go to nationals, but got beat at the very end. Those guys know what it takes to get there, and even though there's not many of them, we work them hard enough that they know what it takes. Our season is going to start and stop with pressure.
"We only have four guys, from last year, coming back. That's just the nature of junior college. We were really good last year, and that had a lot to do with it, we had a lot of leadership, a lot of sophomores. This year, we're going to have to count on a lot of the new guys."
Ginn's squad isn't just small, sophomore-wise, either.
Compared to years past, the Cardinals do not have much size in the post. Ginn said that is going to increase the importance in the team's defensive pressure, because Gadsden State can't afford to get into a half-court game.
That means full-court defense, creating turnovers and hopefully getting easy baskets.
"This team is a little bit different than normal," Ginn said. "We have two guys (Garner and Scott) that are undersized posts, they're only about 6-5, but both of them can play. And that's something, in the past, that we haven't had is an inside presence. And both of those guys, this year, can score down there, so I'd say that's one of our strengths.
"Another of our team strengths is our team speed. We're really small, but we're really fast and can give the other team fits, on the defensive end."
Even though he is just 6-4, Watkins is another Cardinal who will play some on the post, and so far, after three games this season, it is paying dividends for Gadsden State (2-1).
So far this season, Watkins leads the ACCC in scoring and third in rebounds, averaging 30.7 points and 10.3 rebounds per game.
"He's already stepping up," Ginn said about Watkins. "The sky's the limit for him, as far as his ability and what he can do on the court."
Also playing strong early this season, Garner is fourth in the ACCC averaging 10.0 rebounds per game. Garner also is averaging 12 points per game.
Deshawn Moore is second on the team in scoring, averaging 12 points per game.
Rounding out the squad are freshmen Darius Bush, Jeremiah Haynes, Paul Johnson, Garrett Preston, Jacob Gipson, Pat Edmondson and Anthony McMillan, Christian Hutchinson. Bush is a 2013 Etowah High graduate, while Johnson went to Gadsden City.
Pictured is Dan Blackburn