Kennesaw State hoops ready to start winning

Lewis Preston is about to enter his third season as Kennesaw State’s men’s basketball coach.

But this could be considered his first.

Preston inherited a bit of a mess when he took over the program in April 2011.

“We had a lot of issues, ranging from academic to on the court,” he said.

Solving those issues has taken time and hasn’t been fun. The team is 6-55 in the past two years. But Preston is optimistic.

He has a roster comprised almost completely of players he recruited. He said they are closer-knit than the past teams. They are better in the classroom and more competitive on the court, he said.

“I think we would say that we feel like we are going to take some major steps forward,” athletic director Vaughn Williams said. “Progress will be made. I’m looking forward to the season.”

Preston said he doesn’t feel any pressure. Williams said he shouldn’t. Williams said they may have underestimated the amount of work it was going to take to turn the program in a positive direction.

“The only pressure is he’s going to feel is everyone wants him to be successful,” Williams said. “Everyone knows what we are doing in the classroom and the community.”

Because of Academic Progress Report-related violations that occurred under the previous coaching staff and athletic director, Preston’s first team was docked two scholarships and a day’s worth of practice time each week. It’s hard to turn around a culture when you have less time to work with players.

Those sanctions ended before the 2012 season. Still Preston worked with a roster that included players he didn’t recruit and who Williams implied had difficulty buying into what Preston wanted them to do.

Now with his own players, including 6-foot-11 transfer Drew McGhee (Miami of Ohio) and 6-10 transfer Willy Kouassi (Auburn), Preston finally has some height that he can use in different combinations on defense. Last season’s team didn’t include an eligible player taller than the 6-9 Andrew Osemhen, who returns this season.

As a result, the team was outrebounded by four per game and had twice as many shots blocked. Opponents outscored the Owls by an average of 71.7-61.

In addition to the height deficiencies, Preston said losing made the team tougher.

“Guys are competitive, they want to win,” he said. “They’re putting the work in.”

The team returns Delbert Love, last season’s second-leading scorer (12.2 points per game).

Preston said the starting lineup will be determined by the players who are the most competitive in practice. Yonel Brown, a 5-9 guard who started eight games last season, seems to be leading in that area.

Preston wouldn’t say if the team has any definitive goals. That might have been hard to do considering the past two seasons.

Instead, he has a simpler idea.

“Goal is to get better each and every day,” he said.