It was a day no one was sure would get here, but it finally has arrived.
The Lincoln men's basketball team will open its season today against the Central Missouri Mules at Jason Gym. Tip-off is scheduled for 1:30 p.m.
"It's still opening day, and your guys are still excited to play somebody other than themselves," Lincoln coach John Moseley said.
Lincoln's roster will feature 11 players this year, with four returners from last season. Well, five returners, if you also throw in the 2018-19 season.
The Blue Tigers will have the luxury of starting two points guards this year. Senior Cameron Potts was the starting point guard last season, averaging 3.8 assists per game. Senior Ni'Sean Rigmaiden, who missed all of last season with a knee injury, had a team-high 5.0 assists per game in the 2018-19 season.
"I'd like to think it makes us harder to guard," Moseley said. "I don't care who brings the ball up. We've got two good ball-handlers on the floor with those guys at the same time."
Potts will start at point guard today, while Rigmaiden will play the No. 2 guard position. Junior Quinton Drayton, a transfer from Moberly Area Community College, will start at the No. 3 guard position.
"He has proven he can really score the basketball," Moseley said. "I really do feel that this team has a mix of guys that are capable of scoring it."
Arash Yaqubi, the Blue Tigers' lone freshman on the roster, will start at the wing position at No. 4.
"He's a student of the game, he puts the work in," Moseley said. "I wouldn't be surprised to see him play big minutes for us early."
The last starter in the post will be a familiar name to Jefferson City basketball fans.
Sevon Witt, a junior transfer, joins the Blue Tigers after previously playing at Washburn and Kansas City (Kan.) Community College. He played high school basketball at Raytown South, which played in the Joe Machens Great 8 Classic at Fleming Fieldhouse.
"He's a guy that has had success already in the MIAA as a freshman," Moseley said. "He's familiar with the league, he knows how good the players are."
Moseley anticipates Lincoln will have a significant post presence this season.
"It's going to demand some attention from the defense," he said.
Coming off the bench to play in the paint are junior DaMani Jarrett, a Jefferson City High School graduate, and senior Jordan Notch. All three Lincoln post players are 6-foot-8.
Moseley said Jarrett's confidence continues to grow.
"He needs the minutes to continue to develop," Moseley said. "Hopefully he has good minutes early, because I really think in the next two years, his best basketball days are ahead of him."
Rounding out Lincoln's roster are four guards. Senior Lamont Ballard Jr. returns to the roster, while senior Andrew Smith and juniors Mekhi Kimble and Yaniel Vidal are newcomers.
"We need to recruit guys that we think can step on the floor and play immediately," Moseley said. "The junior college ranks and the transfer ranks have been great to us."
Junior Mark Boland is the 12th player on the roster, but Moseley said he will miss this season due to injury.
Moseley noted this year's team has improved its shooting, but the defensive play still has a ways to go.
"I've continuously stressed to the guys that if they're willing to invest defensively, the sky is the limit for what this season can be," he said.
The 2020-21 schedule will feature 22 games against Mid-America Intercollegiate Athletics Association opponents. However, no team will be able to fill more than 25 percent of its gym capacity with fans. For Lincoln, that's a maximum of 385 fans at Jason Gym.
"It will be interesting to see what the home-court environments are like, and whether the trend of the home team having an advantage continues," Moseley said.
Lincoln posted an 11-19 record last season, tying for ninth place in the MIAA. Central Missouri was 10-18 and finished 12th out of 14 teams.
The Mules return their leading scorer, Gaven Pinkley, a 6-9 junior forward who averaged 13.2 points per game.
"I think our guys will be excited to play, I think UCM will be excited to play," Moseley said. "It should be a fun afternoon of basketball here at Jason Gym."