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Coach likes look of LU men’s basketball team (VIDEO)

Lincoln’s Charles Cole goes up for a dunk during a game last season with Central Missouri at Jason Gym. Cole is the top returning scorer for the Blue Tigers.

Lincoln’s Charles Cole goes up for a dunk during a game last season with Central Missouri at Jason Gym. Cole is the top returning scorer for the Blue Tigers. Photo by The Associated Press.

John Redmond wants to put Lincoln basketball back on the map. He believes he finally has the team to do it.

“This is the first group I can honestly say I feel real confident about making some changes in Lincoln basketball,” the fifth-year men’s coach said. “I think they’re going to surprise a lot of people. The kids we have feel like they want to make a change, they want to get Lincoln basketball back where it’s supposed to be.”

That’s asking a lot from a program with just 15 wins to its name during the last four seasons. So it’s all about baby steps for the Blue Tigers as they begin their season against Arkansas Tech at 5:30 p.m. today at the Southwest Baptist Classic in Bolivar.

“I want to be in the conference tournament,” Redmond said of his team’s main goal for the season. “If we get there, I think we have arrived and we have something to show as far as improvement. If we don’t make the conference tournament we haven’t improved.”

Eleven of the 14 teams now in the Mid-America Intercollegiate Athletics Association qualify for the postseason tournament. Lincoln finished last out of 15 teams last season with a 3-25 overall record and 2-16 mark in the league.

But Redmond has a plan for how to crawl out of the cellar.

“We have to win at home and steal a few on the road,” he said. “That’s how you make tournaments. It’s imperative we get that done.”

Video

SBU Classic Preview With Lincoln Coach John Redmond

Coach John Redmond previews the Lincoln men's basketball team's season-opening games against Arkansas Tech and Henderson State at the SBU Classic on Nov. 8-9. (LincolnBlueTigers on YouTube)

That’s no easy task, especially considering Lincoln must replace the league’s leading scorer from a season ago. Cedric Ridle Jr. topped the conference at 21 points per game as a senior.

“You can’t go out and replace. That’s going to be hard to do,” Redmond said. “You’re not just going to find a Cedric anywhere. We have delegated where we have two or three people who can do several things.

“I wanted to put pieces together where we have a pure shooter and have some drivers. We’ve got pieces that are a combination of what we were losing. Instead of getting one, we got two or three guys that can help us in those areas.”

The pure shooter is Clay Crouch, a junior from North Arkansas Community College who will take over for Ridle at shooting guard. Mike Smith, a junior from Westchester (N.Y.) Community College, will play on the other wing.

“He’s a great driver and great mid-range shooter,” Redmond said of Smith.

Josh Buie, a junior who last played at Drury University, will assume the starting point guard role.

Charles Cole, second on the Blue Tigers with 15 points per game and first with 7.3 rebounds per contest last season, will come back to start at forward.

“We have high expectations for Charles,” Redmond said. “Charles will be better due to the fact he doesn’t have to do everything through Cedric.

“There were nights he looked great, and there were nights it was like, ‘Where is Charles?’ My thing with him is being consistent.”

Redmond believes Cole will deliver on a more consistent basis thanks to freshman Aaron Spudich.

“He’s giving Charles a run for his money,” Redmond said. “Charles has no room for error. Aaron’s a man, he was a tight end (at Maplewood-Richmond Heights High School). His work ethic has pushed Charles and made Charles better.”

Then you have James Edmond Jr., who missed all of last season with a knee injury after a solid 2011-12 campaign, starting at center.

Freshman Blake Derickson, from Oshkosh (Wis.) West High School, will push Edmond for the starting spot.

“The way he’s progressing, I’m giving him four or five games and he might be my starting post,” Redmond said of Derickson.

Redmond also expects significant contributions from Mario Bass, a senior transfer from southwest Tennessee Community College, and Robert Hopkins, a freshman from Macomb, Mich., along with a batch of talented freshmen.

“Most times you take a freshman and you think it will take a little while. This group has really been impressive with how they’ve done things, how quickly they’ve picked up things,” Redmond said. “I think we have a nucleus that any given time we have people who can go in and get the job done.

“I’m not excited about who starts because I’m willing to bet the people that are starting will not be the people on the floor at the end of the game.”

Lincoln can begin figuring out that lineup tonight against Arkansas Tech and Saturday against Henderson State.

“I’ve got one thing in mind,” Redmond said. “I will not be satisfied unless we come back home 2-0. I’m not thinking about a split, it’s two wins or bust. That’s the way I’m approaching it.

“It’s not going to be any easy task. We’re going to know real quickly what we’re made of. We’re not starting off with a cupcake. If you want to be considered in those people’s ballpark, you have to go beat them.”

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