Team preview: Elon

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(Information in this team report is as of October 1.)

The Phoenix is not that far removed from its NAIA, NCAA Division II and then Big South Conference days. In a way, the team has been trying to prove not just that it can compete for a championship, but that it belongs as a competitive member of the Southern Conference.

Lo and behold, Elon stunned the league last season by winning the North Division, just a year after finishing 8-23.

What happened? The rest of the league wondered the same thing. Right after Christmas the Phoenix started finding ways to win. After a 2-9 start, Elon upset Clemson to open an eight-game win streak and propel itself to a division title.

"We had a good January and February," coach Ernie Nestor said. "Now we've got to have a full season. Some guys stepped up last year."

The strong season came despite injuries to starting guard Montell Watson (9.7 ppg, 2.9 rpg) and post player Colin Wyatt (6.9 ppg, .580 FG) at different parts of the season. Both were integral parts of the team. Somehow, everybody made the plays at the crucial times.

"It sort of all flowed together for us," Nestor said, "but we had a very thin margin."

This season the margin is again thin, and Elon won't have the advantage of surprise like last year, when it was generally picked to finish fourth among five teams in the North. But Nestor, the SoCon's coach of the year for 2005-06, would still rather have this kind of situation than not to have tasted success.

"It has helped us, obviously," he said of the team's turnaround. "From a recruiting standpoint, it makes people believe we can win -- although four of the five kids we signed, we signed before we'd done all this."