Hoops Newcomers Making Progress For Blue Raiders

November 3, 2004 · MT Media Relations
MURFREESBORO, Tenn. - As preseason practice entered its third week several newcomers to the Middle Tennessee men's basketball team have started to find their niche and add to the progression of the Blue Raider squad.

Newcomers Marcus Morrison, Jonathan Loe and Brian Lake all have had good practices this week, and center Steve Thomas has rebounded strong after a sluggish showing in the Blue-White scrimmage last Saturday.

"More than anything, we are starting to come together and gel as a unit," said Morrison, a 6-foot-6 transfer from Garden City Community College. "We are starting to make the extra passes and it's really showing. We still have work to do but we are making progress as a team."

Morrison's athleticism was on display during Fan Jam when he wowed fans with an array of electrifying dunks on his way to winning the Slam Dunk competition, but the multi-talented guard/forward offers much more to the Blue Raiders than high-flying acrobatics.

Morrison can play on the wing and create match-up problems inside, and his defense also can be an asset. The junior says grasping Middle Tennessee's system is aiding his progress.

"I feel like I am starting to get the flow of things and starting to understand how coach (Kermit) Davis wants things and how things work in the system. I'm really just looking for complete practices. Practice can be long sometime, but I feel like I'm doing better making the most of practices."

Loe, a 6-foot-3 guard from Memphis, Tenn., also has had strong practices this week after struggling in the Blue-White scrimmage Saturday. The well-rounded Loe was impressive in workouts last week before the scrimmage and has rebounded well in three practices this week.

"I like the way Jonathan has come back this week because he had some really good workouts last week," Davis said. "He had some struggles in the scrimmage but like good players do, Jonathan has come back this week and put together some good practices and that's what you like to see."

PRACTICE WITH PURPOSE: Thomas, a 6-foot-9 transfer from the University of Georgia, looks forward to each Blue Raider practice as though he's preparing for the biggest game of his career.

After sitting out last season due to NCAA transfer rules, Thomas is practicing with a purpose as he is determined to make the most of his final year of eligibility.

"I look forward to every day we take the court," Thomas said. "I have big expectations for the team and I just want to come out and work hard and get better every day as a team. I think we are making strides but there is still work to get done." The Blue Raiders will play North Alabama in exhibition action Nov. 11 at Murphy Center and although Thomas won't be able to participate in the contest, he's doing his part in practice to help make those around him better. Thomas will become eligible for Middle Tennessee's game against Toledo in the San Juan Shootout opener, Dec. 20.

"We are getting a lot done at practice," Thomas said. "Everybody is real competitive, but coach Davis' practices are always going to be competitive. I just look forward to every day we have a chance to get on the court and get better as a team."

NATIONAL HYPE: CBS Sportsline has Middle Tennessee rated No. 44 in preseason ranking of college basketball's top 64 teams. The magazine states, "Kermit Davis did a smart thing in giving his team a tough but not too challenging schedule. Nine of the team's first 14 opponents were over .500 last year, which should keep them on their toes. Four starters and seven letterwinners return, and the team gets the services of 6-9 center Steve Thomas, a Georgia transfer, who'll be eligible after the first seven games. The teams has the makings of a scary first-round NCAA opponent - if they make it there."

The magazine lists Middle Tennessee as one of its five sleeper teams, along with Iowa State, Charlotte, Pacific and Murray State. Mike Dean is listed a preseason first-team All-SBC selection in the preseason publication, while Michael Cuffee is a second-team pick, and Thomas is the pick for the SBC Newcomer of the Year.

Dean and Thomas were both named to the Sun Belt's preseason All-Conference team by Sporting News, which pegs the Blue Raiders as the favorite to win the SBC East Division.

Dean and Thomas also are listed on the preseason All-SBC first team in Lindy's 2004-05 Basketball publication, with Thomas selected as the Newcomer of the Year. The magazine also picks Middle Tennessee to win the East Division.

Street & Smith's 2004 College Basketball has picked Middle Tennessee to finish second in the East in its preseason poll. Dean is a preseason All-SBC pick by the magazine, and Thomas is listed as the league's top newcomer.

ON DECK: Middle Tennessee will play North Alabama in its only exhibition game, Nov. 11, at Murphy Center. Tipoff is 7 p.m. The Blue Raiders will open the regular season at home against Lambuth University Nov. 19 at 7:30 p.m.

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