November 2, 2012
Polk State Basketball's Non-Conference Season Filled With Learning Opportunities
Polk State Basketball begins its non-conference season on Saturday against Philadelphia's Rise Academy, marking the first matchup of an intense, 15-game preseason.
Head Coach Matt Furjanic said the next two months will be full of learning opportunities that will help meld his almost-entirely new team.
Returning to the court this year are sophomore starters Ismaila Dauda (C) and Deljavon Simmons (guard), both of whom were anchors of last year's team. Dauda averaged nine points and seven rebounds per game; Simmons posted an average of four points and three assists.
Also returning is Trey Brown (guard), who played in eight games as a freshman, making a total of seven steals and six assists.
Besides those three, however, the players are all freshmen — making for a roster that needs as much non-conference practice as it can get.
"We're definitely inexperienced. As a group, we're very happy with our recruiting year. I think we've brought in some players that can definitely compete at this level," Furjanic said.
"When you have an experienced team coming back, the freshmen have leaders to follow. Right now, we're working on what everyone's role will be and we're working on getting the players to play unselfishly. In high school, they were all the stars, but now they have to sacrifice and concentrate more on their teammates than themselves."
One of the team's freshmen picks — Jamal Evans, a forward out of Riverview High School — won't see any non-conference action. He's recovering from knee surgery and likely won't hit the court until December.
The game against Rise Academy will be followed by Monday's match against the Hawkesbury Jets of New South Wales, Australia.
Furjanic said he was excited to add the Jets to the team's schedule as a way to bring the international nature of basketball home to his players.
"Nowadays, basketball is a worldwide sport. A lot of American players play overseas; it's in the Olympics and just look at all the international players who are in the NBA. A game like this brings all of that home," he said.
Thankfully, the Eagles won't have to play by basketball's international rulebook, Furjanic added; the Jets will play according to the American rules.
That doesn't mean, however, that their game won't be noticeably different than the Eagles, Furjanic said.
"The foreign game is a little different than the U.S. game. The U.S. uses a lot of inside play, where foreign teams rely more on three-point shooting," he said.
Monday's game will expose the Eagles not only to the on-court strategies of their down-under counterparts, Furjanic said, but also to a part of the world they may never see.
"After the games, usually the teams are apart. But we're going to have a post-game reception so the players can intermingle with one another. I'm sure the Australian players will have some questions, and our players will have some questions for them, too. They are playing people from the exact opposite side of the world," he said.
Also on Monday, the Eagles will host the Tampa Bay Strong Dogs, a semi-professional, Division III wheelchair basketball team.
The team will take the court during halftime of Monday's game, sometime between 7:30 and 8:30 p.m.
"Once you see these guys, you'll be amazed by what they can do in their chairs," said Strong Dogs Coach Wayne Bozeman. "These are some of the best athletes in the world."
Furjanic said he'll keep his team on court during the Strong Dogs exhibition rather than conducting his usual halftime meeting.
"For our players to see the Strong Dogs, hopefully it will open their hearts as they grow up. We want them to look at people with disabilities and realize everyone is the same. No matter what obstacles you face, you can work hard and succeed. Our players may have a bad day now and then, but we want them to see how lucky they are," he said.
The game against Rise Academy will take place Saturday at 4 p.m.; the game against the Hawkesbury Jets begins Monday at 7 p.m. Both games will be at Polk State's Winter Haven Health Center, located on the Winter Haven campus, 999 Ave. H N.E.
The games and Strong Dogs event are free for all College students and employees and their families. Tickets for the general public are $3; those 12 and younger are free.