Team preview: VMI

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

By last January, the karma-kayoed Keydets had lost their point guard, their most athletic player and were about to lose their coach for much of the remainder of the season.

A once optimistic campaign turned into a 7-20 dirge and for the second straight year "March Madness" had more military post applications than anything to do with postseason basketball.

Fortunately, the 2006-07 season is off to a much more promising start On Post in Lexington.

Second-year coach Duggar Baucom is back on the bench after five major surgeries since last Jan. 3, including the latest in August to insert a defibrillator in his heart. Baucom suffers from hypertrophic cardiomyopathy, the disease that claimed Hank Gathers. He suffered a heart attack a few years ago and had complications last winter.

"Hopefully this is my last surgery," Baucom said. "I'm optimistic this took care of the problem."

Now Baucom can turn his attention back to his team, which had some complications of its own last season. When junior Matt Coward was lost to an honor code violation three games into the season, the Keydets were left without a true point guard to run the new offense.

"You didn't want to sit in any of the first three rows at any of our games because you might get hit by a ball," Baucom said.

He was joking, but the point problem was no laughing matter. By season's end, VMI was just shy of 500 turnovers and its average of 18.2 per game was by far the worst in the Big South.

Willie Bell, a receiver on the Keydets' football team, joined the fray after his season was over and quickly proved himself one of the team's most athletic players, but he was benched by academics the second semester. Now the 6-5 sophomore and his 2.3 points and 3.1 rebounds per game and are back, and he's one of the reasons VMI looks more athletic than they have in years. Baucom also likes his leadership on the young team.