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(Information in this team report is as of October 1.)
COACH AND PROGRAM
If you don't believe there's any such thing as a bad win, consider what happened to Alabama State down the stretch last season.
A summer ago, Lewis Jackson stepped up from his four-year assistant's role to assume the head-coaching reins from Rob Spivery. After nine years and two SWAC titles in Montgomery, Spivery resigned and took the Southern job. After a rough start to the Jackson administration -- 2-9 in non-conference play and four straight losses to open the league schedule -- Alabama State caught fire, winning 9-of-10 contests over a five-week period. The run culminated in an emotional 63-59 home win over the eventual SWAC champion Jaguars on Feb. 20, in Spivery's return to campus.
Ironically, that victory sowed the seeds of the Hornets' demise.
"Our guys sorta got those big heads," said Jackson a star player for Alabama State in the 1980s. "Thought they had everything in place. … After a win like that, our guys thought it was all over and done because we had beaten the No. 1 team. That was the beginning of the end; it kind of went backwards from there."
ASU went on to lose four out of its final five and was quickly drummed out of the conference tournament by Jackson State in a No. 5-over-No. 4 upset. Rivals and detractors have long held that Spivery's low-scoring, defense-first Hornet squads played "ugly basketball," but this 83-65 quarterfinal exit was ugly for a completely different reason.
Andrew Hayles, a 6-4 guard (9.1 ppg, 3.1 rpg) who had won 2006 SWAC Freshman-of-the-Year honors, was ejected early in the second half after a tussle with JSU's Catraiva Givens. Hayles was mired in an 0-for-7 shooting slump, and Givens had tried to take the ball away after a traveling call. When Hayles was tossed for throwing an elbow in retaliation, the other Hornets lost focus and the resulting lopsided defeat.
Jackson hopes for increased maturity out of Hayles this season as the young guard accepts the mantle of team focal point and star.
"That's the magic word there, maturity," Jackson said. "Andrew has the potential to be a very good ballplayer. What we're looking for out of Andrew this year is for him to continue to mature, to pick up more scoring. And when he improves his footwork and technique, he's going to be a great defensive player as well."
Aside from that March incident in Birmingham, Hayles was a revelation last year. It wasn't a campaign saddled with lofty expectations to begin with, as Jackson was a relatively late hire and had to deal with three lost starters and a number of mid-summer player defections. Still, the season resulted in a positive (10-8) regular season SWAC record, and it's also worth noting that Alabama State was the only SWAC school to defeat an NCAA Tournament-bound team. The Hornets beat eventual Sun Belt champion South Alabama at home on Dec. 22, 78-75.