Mercer basketball has the same amount of new players as returning athletes from last season. After finishing 19-15 last year, the Bears welcome eight fresh faces to the hardcourt this season in the form of three freshmen, four transfers and one walk-on.
The new-look team will not have long to become acclimated to one another — the Bears face the University of Florida, one of their three Power Five opponents on the schedule this season, in the second outing of the year.
The new players will get into the mix through communication and team building activities, according to head coach Bob Hoffman.
“Communication is a paramount thing that we talk about from day one – even starting [in the] summer,” Hoffman said. “Learning how to talk to each other, learning to not listen to the wrong voices, listen to each other at a high level, listen to your coaches at a high level . . . listen to all the voices that are trying to give you great instruction, and that’s an art.
“You can learn that; that’s not something that’s given. Our nature is to shut everybody out and kind of look inside ourselves and try to figure everything out, and as a team, that can be really dangerous.”
In hopes of being dangerous on the court, Hoffman said the team has spent a large amount of time on team building activities, like having speakers come in to talk to the team and spending time reading books together.
Regardless of the amount of returning players, Hoffman said team chemistry is a major focus.
“We do a lot of extra things — team-building games on the bus, trying to make them to laugh and talk and learn who each other are — because I think the more you’re invested in each other, the more you give when you get out on the floor,” Hoffman said.[sidebar title="New to the den" align="left" background="on" border="all" shadow="on"]
Darius Roy, G, Freshman
J.J. Nganga, C, RS Senior
Mac Brydon, C, Freshman
Rashad Lewis, G, Junior
Ria'n Holland, G, Junior
Ross Cummings, G, Freshman
Ryan Johnson, G, RS Sophomore
Stephen Gavin, G, Sophomore
Junior forward Stephon Jelks, a member of the preseason All-SoCon team, said it was challenging to work with so many new players during the summer given their different backgrounds in coaching styles and high school.
But Jelks said progress has been made since then.
“I think it’s a big adjustment because Coach Hoffman expects a lot out of his players and is really specific on details,” Jelks said. “So, just getting them to understand that and buying into his system is pretty much the difficult part.”
Hoffman’s system is very team-oriented. The head coach said that striving to get all of the new individual talent to mesh will not be an easy task, but it won’t be as difficult as it could potentially be since team basketball is a staple of his program.
Jelks doesn’t believe selfishness will be a problem.
“We have a really unselfish team,” he said. “Everybody looks for each other. It’s not like one person [is] trying to get his own. Everybody’s looking to see each other be successful, and we’re all happy for whoever goes for 20 one night.”
Hoffman said that all of the newcomers could make an impact this year, not pointing to any specifically. Four players are transferring in with previous college experience: Ria’n Holland, a guard from Indian Hills Community College; Ryan Johnson and Rashad Lewis, both guards from Tallahassee Community College; and J.J. Nganga, a center from New Mexico.
Three freshmen join the Bears — Darius Roy, guard; Ross Cummings, guard; and Mac Brydon, center — while one walk-on, who attended Mercer last year, also joins the squad — Stephen Gavin, guard.
Even with half of the team never yet donning a Mercer jersey, Hoffman said he believes the team has “an amazing chance to be special.”
“I think there’s unlimited potential — as all teams say this time of year — but I think this is real,” Hoffman said.
Hoffman: Communication is ‘paramount’ in developing chemistry with new players