Big Steve Bennett will be defending against Tennessee Wesleyan in Lee’s basketball opener on Saturday evening.
The Lee men’s basketball team will officially begin the 2012-13 season on Saturday evening at 7 p.m. when it hosts a longtime rival, the Bulldogs of Tennessee Wesleyan College.
The Flames finished the 2011-12 season with a 20-9 record and advanced to the NAIA National Division I Championship for the seventh straight year. The Bulldogs were 24-10 and earned a spot in the NAIA National Division II Championship by winning the Appalachian Athletic Conference.
Lee coach Tommy Brown will be seeking to replace three prime-time starters from last season’s squad. Gone are leading scorer Ryan Westbrooks, point guard Tyrone Caldwell and the team’s top rebounder, Josh Henley.
The Flames will be looking to a pair of veteran post players, Bennett and Patrick Shaughnessy (both 6-foot-10) to pick up the scoring and rebounding load inside, while sophomore Chad Lee has looked strong in scrimmages and Duran Blue has experience at the important point guard position.
Brown and his staff enjoyed an excellent recruiting year and a pair of transfers should move in and garner a share of playing time. Guard Will Barnes played at Tennessee Tech for three seasons. Barnes left basketball for a year but has been working for the past five months toward returning to top form. Guard Chase Dunn is also a Tennessee Tech transfer. He’s only 5-foot-8, but has established himself as a good shooter, and Brown says he’s one of the toughest competitors he’s coached.
Brice Sharp, Cory Billingsley, and redshirt Evan Forhetz return and will be fighting for playing minutes. Sharp has been slowed by an injury, while Billingsley and Forhetz have shown they are prepared to contribute.
Coach Mike Poe is in his ninth season at TWC. He returns six seniors from last year’s championship program. The Bulldogs have good size on the boards with Josh Gregory, Desmond Crisp and Matt Harper. TWC has veteran guard play in Michael Nicolo, E’Jay Ward and Clarence Threat. An interesting match-up could develop between Ward and Dunn; both are 5-foot-8 and always play at an 110 percent pace, their coach says.
The Flames hold a 26-19 advantage in the series. The last meeting on Dec. 11, 2010, saw Lee claim an 89-73 win. Lee is ranked 15th in the NAIA Division I preseason poll while TWC is listed as 17th in the NAIA Division II poll. After Saturday’s game, the Flames will host Tennessee Temple (7 p.m.) next Thursday and Bryan College will be the Homecoming opponent on Saturday, Nov. 3, at 2:15.
There are plenty of options for those who cannot attend the opener but wish to view or listen. The radio broadcast will be aired locally on WCLE (104.1 FM) and around the world on the Lee basketball website — click on the Game Central link. Lee will also be streaming in High Definition. The link will can be found at www.leeuniversity.edu/video and the schedule will include the game where the viewer can click the play button.