Brown is in the midst of his eighth season at Lee. His first seven teams have claimed at least 20 wins and all have advanced to the NAIA National Tournament in Kansas City.
So far his hopes are looking great. Going into the Thanksgiving break the Flames are 7-0 overall and began play in the SSAC with a pair of impressive road wins.
“With this being our last year in NAIA, we want to make sure that we go into NCAA Division II by making Lee University proud of what our men’s basketball team is able to accomplish,” said Brown.
Assisting Brown, David Vespie is replacing Josh Templeton as the chief assistant coach. Former Flame Matt Stilwell will be an assistant and the junior varsity coach, while Josh Henley, another former Lee standout, and Ryan Ross are student assistants.
KEY PLAYERS LOST
Transfers have stepped in to replace Tyrone Caldwell, Henley and Ryan Westbrooks, all starters from last season’s club that had a 20-9 record. Caldwell was a solid point guard who recorded 136 assists in 2011-12. He was also a deadly 3-point shooter and was named to the All-SSAC Division team. Henley was the team’s top rebounder and Westbrooks won the SSAC Sixth-Man award and was a second team NAIA All-American. He averaged 17 points per game.
KEY PLAYERS RETURNING
Big Steve Bennett (6-10, 285) heads a list of returnees Brown will be counting on for leadership. Bennett, who has worked overtime on conditioning, is a deadly shooter when he gets the ball inside. He also averaged six rebounds per game last season.
Duran Blue is a senior guard blessed with tremendous quickness.
After missing the first semester of play in 2011-12, he averaged two 3-pointers and 2.5 assists per outing.
Guard Brice Sharp has been hampered by injuries and has already missed five games. He was named the 2012 winner of the NAIA Champions of Character Award and earned the Pattison Family Scholarship.
Sophomore wing Chad Lee was selected to the SSAC All-Freshmen Team last season and is off to a tremendous start. At 6-foot-5, he’s Lee’s leading rebounder.
Senior post player Patrick Shaughnessy (6-9, 230) recorded 33 blocks in 2011-12 and is seeking to improve those numbers during his final season. He’s started in all seven wins.
Before the season began, coach Brown said this group of recruits had the potential needed to become one of his best recruiting classes, and they have proven him right.
A pair of transfers from Tennessee Tech were asked to step in and be major factors and they have produced.
Will Barnes (6-1, 190) did not play college ball last season, but the talented guard has the tools to be one of the top guards in the NAIA. He’s averaging almost 20 points per game over the first seven games.
Chase Dunn (5-7, 165) is a winger who has already shown he’s capable of knocking down five or six 3-pointers in a row and shows no fear about taking the ball to the rim.
Jamoris Gaines is a 6-6, 205 junior transfer from Albany Tech who should be ready to go by the second semester and Muniru Bawa (7-0, 220), a Tennessee State transfer, has given the Lee coaching staff plenty to be excited about.
The staff has been impressed with the early play of guard Kymon Woods, a 6-foot-4 freshman from Gainesville, Ga.
STRENGTHS OF CLUB
Coaches are not anxious to talk about the expectations for the upcoming season and that is always the case with Brown. He realizes so many things — both positive and negative — can happen between November and March.
“A basketball season is a marathon, not a sprint,” Brown has said many times.
“This club appears to have some speed and athleticism, but we’ll need to stay injury free,” he added.
However, a quick glance at the preseason roster shows eight players in the height range from 6-foot-5 to 7 feet tall.
There is quickness and solid shooters in the backcourt. Of course, the Lee staff always points out that size and quickness will mean much more if the team buys into a tough, man-to-man defense. Defending has always been the staple of a Brown-coached club.
AREAS OF CONCERN
With at least nine new players dotting the roster and all seeking their share of playing time, the staff says it is always important to mix the new guys with the returners.
“We’ve got to take a close look and be able to establish our roles as a group, and that has happened early,” said Brown. “This group has been fun to coach and so far they have bought into what the staff is teaching on offense and defense.”
SSAC TOUGH AGAIN
With the Flames leaving the NAIA and the SSAC after this season, many of the conference rivals could be putting something extra on the table when Lee comes calling.
Over the years battles with Auburn-Montgomery, Emmanuel, Southern Poly and Brewton-Parker have never been easy.
With the teams from the SSAC West added to the conference schedule for the third year, Mobile, Loyola, Belhaven and William Carey will be hard to handle.
This season Coastal Georgia enters the SSAC and it presents an unknown factor for Brown’s staff to deal with.