MACON, Ga. – The Bob Hoffman era gets underway tonight when the Mercer men’s basketball team plays host to LCC International University at the University Center. Tip-off is slated for 7 p.m.
Admission is free, but fans are asked to bring a canned good or non-perishable food item to be donated to area food banks through the Ministry Center of the Mid-State Baptist Association.
“We are excited about giving back to the community,” Hoffman said. “With the tough economic times the food pantries have struggled to meet demands. They do a great job of taking care of people that are down on their luck and we are excited about partnering with the food banks to help make a difference around Macon.”
With the season opener only two weeks away, Hoffman will get an opportunity to gauge the progress of his basketball team against the touring team from Lithuania in the first of two exhibition tune-ups. The Bears will host GCSU in their second and final exhibition next Thursday in the Annual Coaches vs. Cancer contest.
On Wednesday night, LCC International faced Florida State in the Eighth Annual Aubry Boyd Charitable Foundation game and will play its third game in as many nights when LCC spends Halloween night in Bowling Green, Ky., squaring off against the WKU Hilltoppers.
Hoffman, who became the 25th coach in Mercer history on March 27, got a brief glimpse of his team when the Bears traveled north of the border for a three-game Labor Day weekend visit to Toronto. The Orange and Black dropped an 84-80 decision to the Southern Ontario Stars, but bounced back to overwhelm Brock University, 82-37. Mercer closed out the trip with a 67-63 win past Toronto.
“I want to see where we are execution-wise,” Hoffman added. “And see how far we’ve gotten since the trip to Canada as far as the details that we are working on every day.”
Mercer returns eight players, including three of its top five scorers, from last year’s squad that posted an 11-19 overall record, while notching a 6-10 Atlantic Sun Conference record. Junior guard James Florence started 28 contests and was the team's top scorer at 19 points per game, good enough for second in the conference. The squad’s lone senior and reigning A-Sun Defensive Player of the Year, Calvin Henry, started all 30 games for the Orange and Black last season. The 6-foot-7 forward was first in the A-Sun in blocked shots (1.93/g) and ranked third in rebounding, collecting 7.7 caroms a contest.
Returning sophomore guard Mark Hall started nine games a year ago, including the final seven contests. The Los Angeles, Calif., native showed flashes of brilliance, scoring a career-high 30 points against Loyola Marymount last season while draining a University Center record 15-of-17 free throws. During the final seven games he averaged nearly four assists per game and shot 88.9 percent (16-of-18) from the charity stripe.
Forwards BeJay Corley (junior) and Brian Mills (sophomore) each saw action in all 30 contests, with Corley notching three starting assignments.
Hoffman also has the benefit of drawing on the talents of red-shirt junior Daniel Emerson, who sat out last season after transferring from Western Kentucky. Emerson averaged 4.4 points and 3.3 rebounds while seeing action in 61 games over two seasons with the Hilltoppers. The big man demonstrated his smooth outside touch, shooting 40 percent from beyond the arc during his time in Bowling Green, Ky.
With Florence, the 2006-07 A-Sun Freshman of the Year, and Henry, the Bears enter the 2008-09 season as the only team in the A-Sun with two players that have won a conference postseason award on the roster. Florence enters the 2008-09 season as the fifth-highest scorer in the NCAA among juniors, with 1,070 career points. He trails Davidson’s Stephen Curry, Campbell’s Jonathan Rodriguez, Southern Mississippi’s Jeremy Wise and UNC’s Wayne Ellington.
“I expect us to come out excited and fired up about playing. The guys will be together about what we’re trying to accomplish and with this being the first test, it’ll be good to see how they respond tomorrow night on the floor,” Hoffman said.
Tonight's game can be heard via the internet at www.mercerbears.com with Rick Cameron, the Voice of the Bears, doing the play-by-play.