Team preview: James Madison

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

If you would have been told that James Madison would add the CAA Freshman of the Year to five returning starters last season, you likely would have taken it to the bank that the Dukes would improve upon their six-win 2004-05 season. You would have been wrong.

Before the season even began, guard John Naparlo left the team to pursue a country music singing career. Yes, you read that right.

Once the season began, injuries and suspensions mounted. The Dukes lost senior leader David Cooper for an extended time after a December car accident -- the lingering effects limited Cooper to 15 hobbling, mostly ineffective games -- and then talented swingman Cavell Johnson and his 14 points and seven rebounds per game was suspended indefinitely in late December and never returned to the team.

Things took a bad turn at that point, including a stretch in late December into early February in which the Dukes lost 12 consecutive games by 15 or more points. Through all of the difficulties, though, head coach Dean Keener had his team playing as hard as anyone in the conference right to the end.

With senior Ray Barbosa choosing to transfer to UMBC, youth will be served this season. The James Madison roster has no seniors and only two juniors -- and Keener is upbeat about his team.

"I feel like we're walking on concrete now instead of sand," Keener said. "We feel like we've got a core of kids that have a firm understanding of what it takes to be successful."