Polk College Basketball Guide by Merlisa Lawrence Corbett

Polk College Basketball Guide
By Merlisa Lawrence Corbett

As football season winds down, basketball season heats up.

In terms of entertainment value, the gap between the big-time, nationally televised college basketball games and the smaller, local contest is closer than you think.

Polk County residents are fortunate enough to have five area colleges with basketball teams. These colleges don’t have players with household names. Few have a shot at making it to the NBA. However, the competition is as fierce and the pace nearly as swift as any game you’ll see anywhere.

If you love college basketball, you don’t have to drive far to get your slam-dunk fix. Here is a guide to where and who to watch in college basketball in Polk County.

Florida Southern (Lakeland)

Nickname: Moccasins

Conference: Sunshine State (NCAA Division II)

Record Last Season: 25-6

Key Players: Kevin Capers and Tyler Kelly

Outlook: The Moccasins are coming off a successful season that saw them reach the NCAA Division II Elite Eight for the first time since 2000. It was also their seventh-consecutive year with 20 or more victories. They appear in position to make it an eighth-consecutive year. Coach Linc Darner believes one key will be whether his team can fight through injuries.

“With the depth and fighting through injuries is toughness,” says Darner. “You’re going to be injured and you’re going to be sore throughout the year. Can you fight through it and play through it?”

Polk State College (Winter Haven)

Nickname: Eagles

Conference:  FCSAA (NJCAA)

Record Last Season: 22-9

Key Players: Nigel Grant and Bernard Samuel

Outlook: The Eagles enter the 2014-2015 season looking to rebound from an early exit in the FCSAA/NJCAA Region 8 tournament last year. “We are hoping we can improve as the season goes along as we have eight new players on the roster,” says Coach Matt Furjanic. “We’re looking for big years and leadership from sophomores Bernard Samuel and Nigel Grant.”

Southeastern University (Lakeland)

Nickname: Fire

Conference: The Sun (NAIA)

Record Last Season: 27-7

Key Players: Tim Mitchell

Outlook: Considering the arsenal Coach R-Jay Barsh has returning, the Fire could actually improve on their winning ways.  “We have multiple players who can score. Two of our players were state Players of the Year, and six have scored 20 or more in a game during their collegiate careers,” says Barsh. “Offensively, we have good balance between quick and athletic guards like Andre’ Winston and Jordan Talley, along with a post presence in Timothy Mitchell and Jordan McCloud. Defensively, we have the ability to play multiple defenses. We also return one of the NAIA’s top defenders in Dana Thomas, and top shot blockers in Timothy Mitchell.”

Warner University (Lake Wales)

Nickname: Royals

Conference: The Sun (NAIA Division II)

Record Last Season: 11-19

Key Player: Eddie Delegal

Outlook: The Royals finished near the bottom of the The Sun Conference. Their biggest struggles came on the road. They had a 9-7 record at home, but 2-12 on the road. Despite the losing record, the Royals stayed competitive. Four of their losses were in overtime. With Delegal leading the way, the Royals hope last year’s missed opportunities will serve as lessons learned on the way to a winning season.

Webber International University (Babson Park)

Nickname: Warriors

Conference: The Sun  (NAIA Division II)

Record Last Season: 10-21

Key Player: Jovney Deceus

Outlook: Like the Warner Royals, the Webber Warriors are coming off a disappointing season. The Warriors had a worse overall record than Warner. However, they edged their nearby neighbors by one conference win. In a conference that boasts four teams with 20-plus wins, it will be difficult for Webber and Warner to finish above 500.