Team preview: Prairie View A&M

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

Over the summer, the coaches and staff at Prairie View moved into a brand new office facility -- new furniture, new phone system, new everything.

"We're looking more Division I every day," new coach Byron Rimm said.

Last year's squad tested the limits of how bad a team could be and still somehow remained a member of the NCAA's top flight. Prairie View managed to finished last in the RPI at 334, despite thrashing notoriously hapless independent Savannah State, 71-43, in December (Sav-State finished 333rd). The Panthers were, to put it simply, the worst team in the worst conference -- they lost their first 11 SWAC games and finished last in the league in field-goal shooting (40.4 percent), free throws (59.6 percent), points per-shot-taken (.93), and offensive and defensive efficiency (.84 points per possession offense, 1.05 points defense).

Rimm had to watch every minute of that 2005-06 debacle from the bench, but as an assistant. Darrell Hawkins was acting as interim coach after the summer 2005 firing of three-year head man Jerry Francis, and after a 5-24 season, Hawkins didn't exactly earn the job. Rimm, who led Jarvis Christian of the NAIA for three seasons before arriving at PVAM in 2005, was promoted on April 19.

"We learned a lot about what not to do last year," Rimm said "We were the worst team in the country. And you can't bring pretty much anybody back from the worst team in the country."

Well, a few players will be back, anyway. Prairie View will have up to five holdovers from last year's team, a list headed by 6-4 senior forward Chris Gaines (8.5 ppg 3.2 rpg). Gaines was a rare bright spot for the Panthers last season, shooting a solid 51 percent from the field. He was also a statistical freak, grabbing more offensive rebounds (43) than defensive ones (36).

"I think he'll be our leading scorer this year," Rimm said. "He's a wiry slasher, a scoring machine, always going to the cup. He'd go in for five minutes last year, and he'd have 11 points. I was always like, 'Good God!' "

Gaines will significantly pad his point total if he improves his dreadful (.488, 21-of-43) free throw shooting.

There's also Dominique Sharpe (6.9 ppg, 4.4 rpg), a 6-3 junior guard and three part-time players from 2005-06. Jared Ellison (4.2 ppg, 1.9 apg), a 5-6 senior guard, is back, as are two senior 6-7 forwards: Adenilson Clementino (2.1 ppg, 3.0 rpg) and Clifford Franks (5.7 ppg, 4.4 rpg). The trio will probably fill out the bench and share war stories about the last few PVAM seasons with the newcomers.