Now in his fifth year as FMU’s head coach, Gary Edwards has seen his team’s total victories increase every season, and he expects the same this campaign.
The Patriots finished the 2009-10 season with an overall record of 18-10, winning 10 of their 18 Peach Belt Conference games.
Francis Marion returns eight lettermen, including two starters, from last season’s squad. Although key players Robert Faulkner and Edward Gullatte will not be playing this season, the Patriots do return their leader in scoring and rebounding, 6’6” senior guard Simel Boyd, who is a pre-season honorable mention Sporting News All-American.
According to the official website of the Peach Belt Conference, the USC-Aiken Pacers are expected to repeat as champions of the league, with Francis Marion predicted as finishing eighth.
Coach Edwards hopes this prediction will light a fire in the bellies of his players.
“I hope that we’ll have a competitive spirit and take on that ‘us against the world’ mentality,” Edwards said.
One of the main issues addressed by Coach Edwards and Assistant Coaches Jarron Hinton and Crayton Jones is turnovers. Edwards stated that his team is concentrating heavily on creating turnovers for their opponents, limiting their own turnovers and improving offensive and defensive rebounding. The Patriots averaged 18.3 turnovers a game last year.
Francis Marion as a team is tied together by unity and team chemistry. Coach Edwards credits the chemistry to the veterans on the team.
“We’ve got guys who have been here for four years,” Edwards said. “So they know what we’re all about.”
Edwards also praised the young men for not only being talented, but for being solid people on and off the floor.
“Our guys are good and unselfish people,” Edwards said.
The head coach acknowledged junior forward/center David Turner and junior forward Liki Turner for keeping the guys loose and alive with their many humorous activities and comments.
Of the 10 losses the Patriots suffered last year, five of them were by 10 points or less; this includes two tough two-point losses to Armstrong Atlantic State University. Edwards also stated that the 89-80 loss at UNC Pembroke really hurt his squad.
Last season was a difficult year for the Patriots shooting from the outside. As a team, Francis Marion only shot 31 percent from beyond the three-point line during the regular year. But Edwards expects freshman guard Evrik Gary, senior guard/forward Dominique Coleman and junior guard Matt Todd to help improve Francis Marion’s three-point shooting and add to the points per game for the Patriots, which last year stood at 74.4.
For Edwards, the message to his team is pretty clear. He wants his team to not be intimidated by USC-Aiken, whom Edwards calls the “Miami Heat of the PBC.” Edwards also wants FMU fans to be patient with the team and expect steady improvement as the year progresses, even if the Patriots do not get off to the start they got off to last year, going 16-3 in their first 19 games.
The Patriots play at the College of Charleston in an exhibition game on Nov. 5, and the regular season begins for the Patriots at home on Nov. 16 against Allen University.