Team preview: Southern Miss

Blue Ribbon Illustrated previews the 2003-04 college basketball season, exclusively on Insider.

Updated: November 4, 2003, 6:19 PM ET
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After two sub-par seasons, Southern Miss coach James Green liked his team's chances of bouncing back this year when school started in September.

Green's optimism was clouded in early September by an NCAA investigation which resulted in the ineligibility of two recruits and the resignation of assistant coach Luster Goodwin.

During the investigation, Goodwin violated the NCAA's ethical conduct bylaw by providing false and misleading answers, according to a university letter to the NCAA that was obtained by the Hattiesburg (Miss.) American.

Violations were discovered after the university looked into discrepancies between two copies of a player's transcript.

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Goodwin also provided extra benefits to two players by driving them off campus, also a violation of NCAA rules.

The names of the players were blacked out in the university letter to the NCAA, but they were identified as junior college transfers and identified, according to the Hattiesburg American, as post players Brannon Hayes and Rudolph Mauricette.

"They were secondary violations," Don Oberhelman, compliance director for Southern Miss, told the newspaper. "There was no advantage gained by the institution and no intention to gain an advantage. The institution was diligent in finding out about violations and policing itself to prevent them from becoming major. In this case, the policy worked."

According to the letter, one of the two players was attending classes at Southern Miss but was not enrolled while he waited for a transcript showing the completion of necessary summer classes. Later, both players left campus during the school's investigation, and because they were from the same junior college, school officials believed both of their transcripts were fraudulent.

The two players later told school officials Goodwin had told them on Sept. 4 that they had to leave campus and drove them off campus, where they were met by their junior college coach. The ride was considered an extra benefit.

Green said Goodwin was not forced to resign and that he was surprised by the violations.

"This is the first time we've had a violation," he told the Hattiesburg newspaper. "We've had a good track record."

The dark September put a damper on an otherwise optimistic outlook as the Golden Eagles return their top five scorers from last season.

"This is the first time since I've been at Southern Miss that we've had as many players back who have played as many minutes as they have," said Green, who has the second-longest tenure at his current school than any other C-USA coach (behind Cincinnati's Bob Huggins).

"The guys we have back have a better understanding of the game and their skill level is higher than any group we've had."

Senior post Charles Gaines is the perfect player to build the team around.

The 6-7 Gaines (15.1 ppg, 9.6 rpg, 3.0 bpg) started all 29 games last season and was chosen to the All-C-USA third team. Gaines, who sat out the 2001-02 season after transferring from Southwest Missouri State, started his Southern Miss career with four straight double-doubles and finished with 14 for the season.

He hit double-figure scoring in 25 games and was third in the league in rebounding and eighth in field-goal percentage (.514).

Gaines could have gotten better this season with the additional post help that Green brought to the program.

"Having more help inside, and given Charles' development, we expect him to be able to move further out, put the ball on the floor and do some things that we didn't ask him to do last season, and that, perhaps, he wasn't able to do," Green said before Hayes and Mauricette were ruled ineligible. "He's worked hard on his shooting and ball-handling in the off-season and when opponents watch tape and see him working mostly around the basket last season, his ability to do these other things will make him an even better player.

"Probably of all the plusses he brings to the game, his intensity is the most important. He makes other players feed off his intensity and that makes us a better team."

Last season, Gaines played mostly at the low post, but was expected to move to his more natural power forward position this season before the program received a blow in mid-September.

The absences of Hayes and Mauricette left 6-6, 220-pound junior forward Ronald Pittman as the only junior college recruit left to bolster the frontcourt.

Pittman, of Washington, D.C., spent last season at Tyler (Texas) Junior College. He averaged 13 points, eight rebounds, three assists and two steals.

"J.R. [Pittman] is an aggressive guy," Green said. "He's not concerned with whether you throw it to him, and can he shoot it, but is more concerned with whether he can go get it and put it back in, defending, doing the dirty work. You always need to have a guy like that on your team."

Emmanuel Willis, a 6-7 freshman forward, will also bolster the frontcourt. Willis played at Mendenhall (Miss.) High School last season.

Greg Johnson, a 6-8 senior, would have played mainly on the perimeter. Now, he might have to help out inside.

Johnson (12.6 ppg, 4.6 rpg), a transfer from Southern Union (Ala.) Community College, started 25 games for Southern Miss last season and had 20 double-figure scoring games last season. He was the team's second-leading scorer and was second in minutes per game (27.5).

He originally committed to Auburn out of junior college, but signed with Mississippi. He was unable to play for Ole Miss because of an SEC rule that prohibits its schools from signing a junior college player who did not spend three consecutive semesters at the school from which he graduated.

"Greg is one of our more talented players," Green said. "There were times last season when he looked really good and other times when he didn't look as good. He played last season after being away from the game for over a year. He was playing at a higher level than he had ever played and he was anxious to prove what he could do.

"That caused him, at times, to try to do too much, but once he learns to rely on his teammates and to be patient, his athleticism can take him a long way. He needs to shoot the ball better from the perimeter, but he can rebound and defend. He's a guy who can do pretty much whatever he wants to do on the court as a player. It's just a matter of whether he can tie it all together and create the focus he needs to be good."

Jasper Johnson, a 6-7 sophomore, has the same type of versatility. Johnson (11.3 ppg, 4.3 rpg) didn't start a game last season but was the team's third-leading scorer. He was second in three-pointers (28-of-99) and led the team in free-throw shooting (52-of-61, 85.2 percent).

Green can move Jasper Johnson to a wing or power forward, depending on the personnel of the opposing team. With the loss of the two junior college players, Johnson will have to take his turn in the low post. He was hampered by a shoulder injury for much of the season, and that limited his effectiveness. He was third on the team in rebounding.

"He's capable of scoring equally well from both positions," Green said of Jasper Johnson. "What he will give us this season is more of a presence inside. He played most of last season with that shoulder problem and that made it hard for him to take advantage of his size and strength inside, where all that banging takes place.

"With the shoulder not being a problem, we'll be able to put him on the perimeter when we play zone teams because he is one of our better three-point shooters, and then move him inside when we need to because he scores it as well inside as he does on the perimeter.

"Jasper is a player who fans want to embraces. He's likeable, he's well spoken, he's big and he can do things that you think he shouldn't be able to do. He's a real good player, and I think he can play for money one day if he keeps developing."

The returning starter at small forward is 6-5 senior Clement Carter (4.0 ppg, 3.6 rpg), who started 26 games and averaged 19.2 minutes.

Carter also started 20 games as a sophomore and has played in 82 games, the most of any player on the team.

Carter can play more than one backcourt position and is the lone holdover from the 2000-01 C-USA championship team.

In the backcourt, 6-2 junior Dante Stiggers returns at point guard. Stiggers (5.9 ppg, 2.2 rpg, 4.6 apg) started all 29 games last season and ranked seventh in C-USA in assists.

In the off-season, Stiggers worked to improve his perimeter shooting, and Green points to that as being a key to his backcourt's success.

Jarekus Singleton, a 6-1 sophomore, will likely be Stiggers' backup at point guard. Singleton sat out last season as an academic non-qualifier and worked to learn the offense.

Also sitting out last season was 6-4 freshman Sam Richardson, who was red-shirted after suffering ligament damage to his thumb.

"We had two guys who sat out last season, Jerekus Singleton and Sam Richardson, who have been around the program, just not as involved as roster players, and I think that gives them a little bit of an edge," Green said.

Green has a designated three-point shooter in 6-4 junior guard David Haywood.

Haywood (6.6 ppg, 2.4 rpg) started five games and averaged 25.2 minutes per game last season. He led the team in three-pointers (38-of-84) and was second in the conference in three-point percentage (.452).

He scored a season-high 20 points against TCU on Feb. 12 and hit double-figure scoring in eight games.

Rounding out the backcourt is 6-5 sophomore guard Jason Forte. Forte (2.6 ppg, 1.3 rpg) played in 26 games and averaged 11.5 minutes per game.

BLUE RIBBON ANALYSIS

Before the departures of post players Hayes and Mauricette, Southern Miss had a good enough blend of returning talent and newcomers-primarily in the frontcourt-to make an upward move in Conference USA.

Such a move would be led by 6-7 senior forward Gaines, who was chosen to the all-conference third team last season, and 6-2 junior Stiggers, a steady point guard.

Green added some much-needed depth in the paint, but the ineligibility of Hayes and Mauricette certainly put a kink in his plans.

Green was known for playing tenacious half-court man defense for several years, but last season was forced to employ different defenses, including some zone, because of personnel limitations.

That experience should also help the Golden Eagles this season.

"The fact that we played different kinds of defenses last season gives our players a better understanding of that area of the game, and we should be able to extend our defense this season and that can lead to more easy baskets on the offensive end," Green said. "We also allowed some of our young players more freedom on the offensive end, and that should give them a better understanding of what we need from them this season. Those two things together can help make us a different and better team."

For the most comprehensive previews on all 327 Division I teams, order the 384-page "Bible" of college basketball, Blue Ribbon College Basketball Yearbook, at www.blueribbonyearbook.com.

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