[gallery ids="25612,25611"] Basketball’s history is riddled with legendary partnerships: Shaq and Kobe, Jordan and Pippen, Steph and Klay- the list could go on. No matter who else was on the floor, these pairings always stood out. On this year’s talented Mercer women’s basketball team, two players stood above the rest: Seniors KeKe Calloway and Amanda Thompson. And that’s not just an opinion. The Southern Conference coaches named Thompson their player of the year, while Calloway was given the same recognition by conference media. The duo started every game for the Bears in another historic season, leading the team to a second straight conference title and NCAA tournament berth. I sat down with them to find out a little bit about their basketball careers and their success at Mercer. How long have you been playing basketball? Calloway: “I started playing competitively when I was five years old, but I remember having a Fisher-Price goal when I was two.” Thompson: “My dad was a coach, so I grew up in the gym. Competitively, the youngest we could be to play was six.” When did you realize you wanted to continue playing basketball? Calloway: “Probably around eighth grade, but for a long time before that, I wanted to be a professional skateboarder.” Thompson: “For me, it was like seventh or eighth grade. I was still playing everything, but it was between golf and basketball.” What made you want to come to Mercer? Calloway: “For me, it was the family aspect. They had a young core, so I felt like that was key for me to come in and at least compete to be able to play.” Thompson: “It was mainly the engineering school. It was a mid-major level, which was where I felt like I could play basketball, and there was a great engineering school.” What’s one lesson you’ve learned in your four years playing here? Calloway: “Just to continue to work hard for what you want regardless of how things may be going, and always seeing the brighter side of things no matter how you may feel.” Thompson: “For me, it’s taking things one step at a time. I like to plan and look ahead at stuff, but it’s so important in basketball to focus on one game, one practice at a time. I just try to stay in the moment.” What’s it like being able to play in front of your families? (Calloway is from Forsyth, Georgia, 20 minutes north of Mercer and Thompson is from Hayesville, North Carolina, just an hour from conference opponent Western Carolina.) Calloway: “I’m a big family person, so to see them in the stands at almost every home game is a big blessing. Not too many people get that opportunity- we have some international students who haven’t seen their parents this year, so to be able to have that blessing is key.” Thompson: “Even our road games aren’t that far from home, so my family has been coming a lot. I’m from a small hometown, so to go play college basketball and have our team be successful has been incredible for the town. Knowing that it means that much to them is pretty special.” What’s the highlight of your career so far? Calloway: “Last year, winning the first conference tournament. We had been there two times before then and we came up short both times, so to finally win it last year was a special moment.” Thompson: “This year was great, but last year winning it with the group we’d been with for so long and lost it with twice was awesome.” What makes this year’s team so special? Calloway: “I think our relationships on and off the court. Everyone gets along well, no jealousy or anything like that. We have a lot of freshmen, but we’ve all gelled together really well.” Thompson: “We’ve been a very balanced team this year. Different people have stepped up at different times, which is cool to see because that doesn’t happen on every team. Anybody on any given night can be the leading scorer.” Do you have any professional players you compare yourself to? Calloway: “I’m Baby Dame, (Portland Trail Blazers guard) Damian Lillard. That’s my favorite player.” Thompson: “No, I don’t really have anyone-” Calloway: “She’s like Charles Barkley.” (both laugh) What do all the individual awards mean to you? Calloway: “You can’t just downplay it, it has to mean something. Obviously it’s special, but the team awards are what makes the individual awards possible. Winning the conference, getting to cut the nets down and going back to the NCAA tournament is the most special.” Thompson: “It’s evidence of team success. Anytime somebody on the team gets recognition it’s exciting, whether that’s me or KeKe or anyone. And obviously getting to see my family getting excited (about the awards) has been fun.” What do you think your legacy will be? Calloway: “I just hope that we leave a legacy of hard work. We’ve all worked hard to get to this point, and I hope we’ve touched the lives of the players that come after us. Hopefully they strive to do even greater things.” Thompson: “I would agree with that. I don’t think anybody thought we were going to do what we’ve done, especially this season. It proves that if you work hard every day, you can have success.”
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Show up to any baseball field where there’s a game going on, regardless of the level, and chances are you’ll find one of the best athletes on the field playing shortstop. Some of the most famous baseball players of all time were shortstops— Derek Jeter, Ozzie Smith, Carlos Correa, Cal Ripken Jr.-- every team has their guy. For Mercer, that guy is 6’3” Sophomore RJ Yeager, the reigning Southern Conference Freshman of the Year and this season’s favorite to win conference player of the year. As impressive as his freshman season was, Yeager looks poised to be even better this year. With six home runs so far on the year, he has already equaled his home run total from last year in just 12 games. His hot start has earned him recognition as SoCon Player of the Month for February. Yeager attributes his success on the field to being “relaxed,” something that should come naturally given his laid-back personality. “I’m just relaxed. When I’m on I’m super relaxed,” Yeager said. “When I get that feeling in the box, that looseness, I know good things happen for me.” Of course, it doesn’t hurt that he’s been playing the game for almost his entire life. “I was probably three when I started picking up a bat. Every time I went outside, I was swinging a bat,” Yeager said. By the time he was a junior in high school, Mercer’s coaching staff began to take notice of his talent. “I was at a tournament in Atlanta, and that’s how I (was) seen by the coaches. They liked me and offered me a scholarship that weekend, and I took it right off the bat,” said Yeager. That impulsive decision has paid off for Yeager, who has plenty of good things to say about playing at Mercer. “I love playing at this park, man, I love all the fans when they come out, the right field fans,” Yeager said. “And the brotherhood too, [my teammates and I] hang out 24/7. There’s nothing I wouldn’t do for them.” Though he’s only just starting his sophomore season, the Florida native has plenty of career highlights. He said his top three are beating Florida last season, his three-homer game against Alabama A&M earlier this year and hitting a walk-off home run to beat Furman last season. The most well-known aspect of Yeager’s game is of course his hitting, but he’s no slouch with the glove. If you show up to the park early enough on game days, you’ll likely catch him working on his defensive skills. “Everybody sees home runs, doubles, hits, but they don’t see three hours before the game when me and my second baseman are out there taking ground ball after ground ball,” Yeager said. “It’s not as cool as hitting home runs, but it’s just something you gotta do.” That kind of a work ethic has certainly paid off for him so far, and fans of Mercer baseball should expect to see more of the same in the future. “Consistency, man, I just want to be known as the guy who’s consistent every single day… I want to be known for always producing some way, whether it’s a bunt, hit, being good in the field, whatever,” Yeager said. Yeager compares himself to one of Major League Baseball’s brightest young stars, Carlos Correa. The two share the honor of being recognized as the best first-year players in their respective leagues, as Correa won American League Rookie of the Year honors in 2015. “He’s a taller shortstop, he’s got some pop, he works hard. I’ve always compared myself to him, realistically. If I could end up like him, that’d be awesome,” Yeager said. From swinging around a bat as a three-year-old to playing on college baseball’s biggest stage, baseball is clearly in Yeager’s blood. His love for the game developed at an early age, with his dad coaching his first travel ball teams, and he shows no signs of slowing down anytime soon. “It became such a big part of our lives, so I kinda didn’t know anything different,” he said. “I just wanted to stick with it for as long as I can, and I plan to play as long as I can.”
Mercer Bears men’s basketball head coach Bob Hoffman has been relieved of his duties, according to a Monday morning press release from Mercer Athletics. The decision comes after a season that saw the Bears win just six conference games and exit the Southern Conference tournament in the first matchup this past weekend. Hoffman’s 11 seasons at the helm resulted in a 209-165 overall record. Under his leadership, the program saw seven winning seasons and six postseason tournament appearances, as well as the famed 2014 upset win over Duke in the NCAA Tournament. Before coming to Macon, Hoffman played college basketball at Oklahoma Baptist University and held head coaching positions with Southern Nazarene University’s women’s team and at the University of Texas-Pan American. He also served as an assistant at the University of Oklahoma and coached in the NBA Development League. “Coach Hoffman has made an indelible mark on the Mercer basketball program,” Mercer Director of Athletics Jim Cole said in the release. “Bob always ran his program and mentored his student-athletes in a first-class manner that represented our university well.” Cole went on to praise Hoffman and his wife, Kelly, and thanked them for their time and effort spent on Mercer. Cole also asked for the support of the Bears fanbase as the program moves in a different direction. According to the release, Mercer’s search for their next head coach is already underway.
For even the most casual of sports fans, March is a special month. College baseball is starting to heat up, professional baseball spring training is underway, and professional basketball is zeroing in on the playoffs. But above all else, March is known for one thing: college basketball’s March Madness. Mercer’s men’s and women’s teams will get to play their part in “The Big Dance” starting with the Southern Conference tournament from March 7-11 at the U.S. Cellular Center in Asheville, North Carolina. Here’s a quick look at what to expect from the Bears this weekend. Women’s Team: It’s Mercer’s to Lose March 5, 2017. That’s the last time Mercer women’s basketball lost a game to a conference opponent, losing to Chattanooga by two in the conference tournament championship. In the more than 700 days since, the Bears have gone 31-0 in regular and postseason conference play. This year, led by seniors KeKe Calloway, Amanda Thompson, Rachel Selph, and Linnea Rosendal, the team claimed its second straight regular season SoCon championship. They enter this year’s tournament on a 14-game winning streak and look set to defend their title. The top-seeded Bears will kick off the tournament against eighth-seeded Western Carolina at 11 a.m. on March 7. It would be easy to overlook this game, since the Catamounts did not win a conference game all year and Mercer won both regular season matchups. However, just two points separated the teams in their first meeting this season, with the Bears squeezing out a 69-67 victory. They would go on to win the next matchup by 16. Anything can happen in March, especially when higher seeds underestimate their opponents, but this should be a stress-free victory for the Bears. With a win, their semifinal opponent will be either ETSU or Wofford on March 8 at 11 a.m., and a victory in that game would place them in the championship game at noon on March 10. All games will be broadcast on ESPN+. Men’s Team: Bears Face an Uphill Battle Men’s basketball in the SoCon has been especially strong this year, and having 10 new players hasn’t exactly made things easier for the Bears. Mercer finished the regular season 6-12 in conference play, and will enter the tournament coming off a pair of double-digit losses to VMI and UNCG. If there’s one thing they do well, though, it’s that they fight to the finish. Over half of their conference losses have been by 10 points or less, and the same can be said for non-conference losses against powerhouses like Florida, NC State, and Georgia State. Junior Ross Cummings has clearly been the star of the show, scoring in double digits in all but three games this season. Seniors Jaylen Stowe and Cory Kilby, along with Junior Ethan Stair and Sophomore Marcus Cohen, have also been key contributors and will need to step up for the Bears to have success. The sixth-seeded Bears will have no easy task in the first round, as they will face third-seeded Furman at 8:30 p.m. on March 9. The Paladins won both regular season matchups by double digits, and finished the regular season with a 13-5 conference record. Mercer will need all of their key players to perform if they are to avenge those losses. If a few more things had gone their way this season, the Bears might be looking at a completely different tournament picture. As I said before, anything can happen in March, so don’t count Mercer out just yet- they are certainly capable of pulling off an upset or two. If they beat Furman, they will play UNCG, Samford, or The Citadel in the semifinals on March 10 at 6:30 p.m. With another win, they will find themselves in the championship game at 7 p.m. on March 11. All games will be broadcast on ESPN+ and the championship will be featured on ESPN.
What better way to follow up Valentine’s Day than with the return of college baseball? Feb. 15 saw the Mercer Bears baseball team return to action, hosting the Purple Aces of Evansville. The two schools played a three-game series at OrthoGeorgia Park, with the Bears taking the first two of three contests. Reigning Southern Conference Freshman of the Year RJ Yeager picked up right where he left off with two home runs on the weekend, while new faces such as Kel Johnson and Angelo DiSpigna were key contributors in their Mercer debuts. Game One: Mercer 5, Evansville 4 In front of nearly 1,500 spectators on Friday night, the Bears held off a late comeback effort to defeat the Purple Aces. Right-handed junior Sawyer Gipson-Long was dominant in his 11th career start on the mound, allowing just one unearned run on four hits over five innings of work. Offensively, a three-run first inning against Evansville starter Adam Lukas put the Bears in front. First baseman Collin Price’s single scored right fielder Kel Johnson, and two batters later, center fielder Zach Miller drove in Price and third baseman DiSpigna with another single. A pair of solo home runs from shortstop Yeager in the second and Johnson in the fifth rounded out the scoring for the Bears. Evansville plated one run in the fourth and took advantage of some Mercer pitching mistakes in the top of the ninth, scoring three runs to cut the deficit down to one. After redshirt freshman Matt Blair loaded the bases with one out, Senior Kevin Coulter came in to slam the door and record the save, striking out the only two batters he faced. The win marks the ninth consecutive year in which the Bears have been victorious on opening day. Game Two: Mercer 7, Evansville 6 Another hot offensive start was again enough to hold off a resilient Evansville team and secure a series win. Evansville starter Nathan Croner had a forgettable night, giving up all seven runs on just five hits over four innings. The Bears rifled off three consecutive hits with two outs in the second inning, highlighted by Johnson’s three-run home run, to take an early 5-0 lead. Two more RBIs from left fielder Garrett Wilkinson and second baseman Kyle Dockus in the fifth rounded out the scoring for Mercer. Evansville reliever Shane Gray held the Bears to just two hits in the final four innings of the contest. Left-handed junior Tanner Hall was good enough to record the win in his first career weekend start, giving up four earned runs and striking out three in 4.1 innings. Making their Mercer debuts, freshman Jackson Kelley and junior college transfer Beau Healy gave up one run each in a combined 3.2 innings of relief work. With the Purple Aces threatening after a Nate Reeder home run in the ninth brought them within one, Coulter entered the game and retired all three batters he faced to record his second save. Game Three: Mercer 2, Evansville 7 Sunday afternoon saw the Bears lose their first contest of the season, leaving eight runners on base in a 7-2 defeat. After giving up a first-pitch home run to Yeager, Alex Weigand bent but never broke in his start for Evansville, allowing seven hits but only two runs in his five innings of work. Relievers Austin Allinger and Jake McMahill combined to hold the Bears to just one baserunner over the final four innings. Late-game home runs from A.J. Fritz, Nate Reeder, and Kenton Crews powered the Purple Aces’ offense and put the game out of reach. Mercer starter Zach Graveno carried a no-hitter into the fourth inning, but allowed two runs in the fifth before being relieved by Scott Smith. Graveno set a career high in strikeouts, fanning seven over his 4.2 innings of work. Smith took the loss in his 1.2 innings of relief, surrendering the lead in the sixth. Nick Spear and Holton McGaha each went 1.1 innings and gave up two runs apiece, though Spear’s were unearned, to finish the final game of the series. A lone bright spot for Mercer offensively was freshman DiSpigna, who, after being held hitless in the first two games, led all hitters with three hits in the contest. Looking Ahead Offensively, there are plenty of positives to take away from this series for the Bears. The big names like Yeager, Johnson and DiSpigna are all living up to expectations thus far. Pitching will need to improve if Mercer is to find more success in 2019, but Coulter and Gipson-Long were impressive on the mound. The Bears return to action on Wednesday, traveling to Tallahassee, Florida to take on Florida A&M before returning home for a three-game weekend series against Alabama A&M.
In sports, there’s nothing quite like a good comeback story. Take, for example, Mercer softball player Danielle Castleberry. After starting all but six games for the Bears as a freshman, Castleberry was sidelined for the entire 2018 season due to injury. “Every day felt really long, but looking back it kind of flew by,” Castleberry said. “It makes you realize not to take things for granted.” Now, the junior infielder is making her long-awaited return to the playing field -- this time as a team captain. Among a host of other accolades, Castleberry was a four-time all-region selection and two-time offensive player of the year at Woodland High School in Stockbridge, Ga. While softball has not always been her sport of choice, her abilities on the field are impressive. “My brother played baseball, so I just wanted to be like him. My parents signed me up when I was three, and I played baseball until I was about 10, and that’s when I started playing softball,” Castleberry said. Head Coach Stephanie DeFeo said Castleberry is “an all-around player.” “She’s clutch, very steady on defense, she made some extraordinary plays last weekend and her freshman year was phenomenal,” DeFeo said. Mercer turned out to be a perfect fit for Castleberry, who started being recruited early in her high school career. “I came on a visit to Mercer and I just liked how small it was, and I wanted to stay kind of close to home so my family and friends could come watch me when we’re here. I just loved the atmosphere, the energy, all the people that were here,” Castleberry said. Through the first 11 games of her return this season, she has made 11 starts and boasts a .310 batting average with two doubles and three RBIs. Her level of consistency means that Mercer fans can expect more of the same throughout the rest of the season. “She’s just been very steady. She makes the routine plays, she steps up at the plate when we need a big hit. I just think she’s going to have a great year,” DeFeo said. “She’s really gritty, and I love players like that.” However, her impact as a teammate may be even more important than her on-field production. “I love my teammates. I love each and every one of them,” Castleberry said. “We’re just coming out and having fun every single day.” “(Danielle) was one of the best teammates when I was recruiting her,” DeFeo said. “She’s a strong leader, and she has really good game sense. I think her being back on the field brings the entire team to a new level,” DeFeo said. Castleberry also does her best to energize her teammates while on the field. “I try to bring the energy every day, get my teammates hyped up if they need someone that day to pick them up,” Castleberry said. Despite not being able to play last season, Castleberry enjoyed fulfilling this role in one of the team’s signature wins. “When we beat Georgia last year, that was a lot of fun. Even though I wasn’t in the game, it was fun to be out there playing my role, picking people up, keeping the energy going,” Castleberry said. Now that she’s back, Castleberry is ready to lead her team to success in the Southern Conference. But no matter what happens on the field, one thing is for sure: she’s going to enjoy every moment. “Personally, I want to make the all-SoCon team,” Castleberry said. “Team-wise, obviously I want to win the conference tournament. I want a ring.”
The weather is warming up and spring is right around the corner, and that means one thing: Mercer baseball is back. The Bears open the season on Feb. 15 against the University of Evansville at OrthoGeorgia Park. Other notable non-conference matchups include home-and-home sets with in-state rivals Georgia Tech, Georgia Southern and Georgia State, as well as a trip to Florida State for a three-game series in early March. Last year marked the ninth consecutive year that the Bears won at least 35 games, a feat accomplished by only four other schools in the nation. However, there was still something to be desired as the Bears fell just one game short of a Southern Conference tournament championship, losing in the final game to Samford. This year’s team promises to build on that result with a combination of talented newcomers and veteran leadership. “We’ve got a lot of new faces this year,” said Head Coach Craig Gibson. “We have fourteen freshmen, and we picked up three graduate transfers, which is something we’ve very rarely done before.” Some of these new faces join several returners in receiving individual awards. Outfielder and graduate transfer Kel Johnson has a host of all-conference and all-America selections from his time at Georgia Tech, and sophomore shortstop RJ Yeager finished 2018 as the Southern Conference freshman of the year. Freshman infielder Angelo DiSpigna was tabbed as the favorite to win that same award by Perfect Game, one of the largest amateur baseball organizations in the country. DiSpigna is quick to deflect any attention he may get from winning this award. “It’s a huge honor, and it’s been a really big blessing to me,” he said. “All the individual stuff is cool, but ultimately the things we’re going to do as a team will be really exciting. I’m focused on that more than anything.” Bringing in so many talented new faces comes with the potential for poor chemistry within the team, but that has proved to be a non-issue through the offseason and the first practices of the spring. One major factor was the decision to bring the entire team into summer school, which has made a big difference in the bonds amongst the team. “From a coaching standpoint, I was worried about the chemistry when you pick up the three older guys. But Kel and the two other guys [pitcher] Scott Smith and [outfielder] Garrett Wilkinson have fit in like they’ve been here from day one,” said Gibson. “We hang out with each other more than we probably should,” said Yeager. Having been at Mercer for four years, senior pitcher Kevin Coulter has seen his share of successful teams, and the chemistry and energy around this year’s squad stands out from previous years. “I think with us being younger, there’s a sense of excitement around the team. Everybody wants to be here, and everyone has been working hard on and off the field,” said Coulter. “All of the guys came in during the summer and got to know each other, and through the fall and spring we’ve really come together as a team.” After a long offseason, the Bears are ready to see the results of all their hard work. Even with just a few spring practices under their belts, there is already plenty of optimism throughout the team. “Everybody’s been working hard, lifting weights, playing summer ball, going through fall and spring conditioning to get ready for this time of year,” said Yeager. “We’ve done the work, and now it’s time to go out and play.” Gibson said their skill level and consistency is getting a lot better. “We’re learning how to be good on the little things,” he said. “I think this is a team that’s going to give us a chance to win a championship.” With so many newcomers to the program, there is bound to be some uncertainty heading into the season. But after getting a sense of the buzz around the team, one thing is for sure: the Bears are poised for yet another successful year and have the potential for a deep run into the postseason.
Fans of Mercer basketball will recognize Ethan Stair as one of the team’s key contributors this season. After battling a variety of injuries the past two years, Stair has started every game for the Bears this year and is averaging 11.1 points per game. Fans may not know, however, that Ethan’s younger brother Evan is one of the team’s managers, a group that has recently formed a team of its own to compete against other schools in the “Manager Games.” I caught up with the pair to find out about their history with basketball and how that plays into their relationship with each other. How did you both end up at Mercer? Ethan: Mercer started recruiting me my junior year of high school, so I had really good ties with one of the assistant coaches here. Evan: I just followed him. What was your sibling rivalry like growing up? Evan: When we were little, we would always play basketball in the driveway with one of our friends who lived down the street. The two of them would always gang up on me- Ethan: I disagree with that, that was never what happened. I felt like I was always the one who got ganged up on. (laughs) But we did have some pretty big fights over some basketball games that would carry over into our neighbor’s yard. I’m sure they liked us a lot. Is the rivalry still that competitive today? Evan: No, we haven’t fought since we were probably eight years old. Ethan: Yeah, we’ve kind of grown since then. (laughs) How often do you get mistaken for each other? (in unison): All the time. Evan: Just the other day, a girl came up to me and said, “Hey Ethan.” I basically go by Ethan now. Even my professors will call me Ethan sometimes, so it doesn’t really matter to me anymore. Ethan (joking): I actually get mistaken for my sister more than Evan. (laughs) But we’ve pretty much gotten used to it by now. I mean, our parents will even mix us up sometimes. Our sister has an “E” name too, so the three of us always get confused. Did you ever play basketball on the same team growing up? Evan: Yeah, the first time was in high school in my sophomore year and his senior year. Ethan: It was really cool, because I had never been on the same team with him since he was so much younger. He got called up to the varsity and was probably the best defender we had. His job was just to guard the other team’s best player full-court, and he always did that without any complaints. Evan: And Ethan was just Ethan. (laughs) Ethan: I was the tallest guy on our team, so I got a lot of rebounds. I’d pass it up to Evan, and then he’d pass it right back. (both laugh) Do you have any traditions or things that you do together on game days? Ethan: I always make sure to go over and talk to him. He always tells me something that I need to do or look for during the game. I get frustrated with myself a lot, and I just turn to him and he’s always there to keep my head up. What’s it like seeing your brother play Division 1 basketball? Evan: I mean, I’ve been doing it my whole life, so it’s nothing really anything new. But after seeing him hurt the past couple of years, it makes it really cool to see him be back on the floor. How much fun is it to see Evan playing in the manager games? Ethan: Coach Hoffman actually offered him a walk-on spot when he got here, but he turned it down. I’ve always tried to get him back on the court with me, so it’s awesome to see him out there again. I know he misses it, and he loves basketball just as much as I do. I definitely think he could be out there playing with us or with another school. Which of you would win one-on-one and why? Evan: I think the last time we played was last year. It’s actually more evenly split than you would think. I’ve played against him my whole life, so I know how to guard him. Ethan: I feel like Evan is the best defender I’ve ever played against. He usually locks me down, but just because I’m taller I can usually win. Evan: He wins most of them, but I get my fair share.
After spending three years as a member of Mercer’s men’s basketball team, senior Jaylen Stowe has learned a valuable lesson: don’t take anything for granted. “Four years may seem like a long time, but it goes by really fast,” Stowe said. You have to make the most out of every day because it’ll be over before you know it.” Over the past few years, Stowe has done just that. The 6’4, 220-pound guard appeared in every game of his sophomore and junior seasons as a Bear, but is set to take on an even larger role this year. Stowe has started each of the team’s five contests this season and has already set a new career high in points and steals, scoring 11 against both UAB and UT Martin and racking up four steals against Maryland-Eastern Shore. However, his impact on the game is not always evident in the box score. “I bring a lot of energy on both ends of the floor,” he said. “I see myself as the best defensive player on the team, so my bread and butter is to make sure the team is locked in on defense. Offensively, I try to focus on being aggressive, finishing at the rim and finding my teammates whenever they’re open.” Stowe’s self-described energetic style played a role in his decision to attend Mercer in the first place. A good relationship with similarly-energetic head coach Bob Hoffman helped lead Stowe to Macon. That relationship has become one of his favorite aspects of being on the team. “Coach Hoffman is an energetic guy just like myself, so playing for him is a lot of fun. The coaching staff and the energy I feel when we play in front of a home crowd is what I enjoy most about playing here,” Stowe said. However, Coach Hoffman does not get all the credit for Stowe’s decision to come to Macon. “Mercer was my first scholarship offer, so I really appreciated that, and I just felt like there was a family-like atmosphere when I first visited,” Stowe said. As one of the most experienced seniors on the team, Stowe has stepped into a leadership role this year, a role that is even more important this year than in others. The Bears graduated several key players last year, and have filled in the gaps with 10 new players, including eight true freshmen. This young group will have to step up if the Bears are going to have a successful season. “We just have to play through it and not keep making the same mistakes. Experience is the best teacher, so getting the young guys playing time is really the best way for them to learn how the college game works,” Stowe said. “In college, everybody is good, so it comes down to whoever plays and executes the best.” After losing so many key players, one might expect the team to feel some pressure heading into the season, especially given the Bears’ history of success in basketball. But at least in Stowe’s case, there is no pressure at all. “I feel like I’ve prepared myself for this situation and I think our team has prepared itself to meet the expectations that are set for us,” Stowe said. “Whether we’re able to exceed those expectations is up to us and how hard we play and how together we play.” While he may not feel any pressure, Stowe still has the same lofty expectations that any player might have for his team. “Obviously, the goal is to win a conference championship and play in the NCAA tournament. We have to keep working and getting better every day so that we can have a chance to play for a championship in March,” he said. Regardless of how this season turns out, there has never been a doubt about Stowe’s post-graduation plans. “After I graduate, I plan on playing professionally, whether that’s the in the NBA, G-League, or somewhere overseas. That’s been my dream ever since I started playing basketball.”