GEORGETOWN — To know the goals that the Georgetown College men's basketball team has this season, one need only look at the banners hanging on the walls of Davis-Reid Alumni Gym.
The Tigers have reached the NAIA national tourney 29 times, including the last 20 in a row. There was a national title in 1998, three runner-up finishes, seven Final Fours, two Elite Eights and seven Sweet Sixteens.
No. 9 in the NAIA and No. 1 in the Mid-South Conference pre-season polls, Georgetown tips off its season Wednesday with an exhibition trip to Florida — which is ranked No. 9 in the NCAA. Such tall tasks are not new for the Tigers, who last year played exhibitions at Louisville, Mississippi State and Florida State.
Georgetown opens regular-season play Sunday at home against Davis & Elkins.
Happy Osborne, 424-79 as head coach since 1996, returns three starters-plus.
Point guard Eddie Gray (9.9 points per game, 3.6 assists) is back with forwards Vic Moses (17.5 ppg, 8.4 rebounds) and Vincent Crutcher (9.8 ppg). Add 6-foot-9 center/forward Maurice Pearson (6.2 ppg, 4.6 rpg), who made three starts before a bad knee limited, then ended his play.
Gray says the biggest difference between this team and last season's 26-7 unit is "since we're smaller in numbers, it just makes us play harder. Because we do a lot of drills in practice where we've just got to bust it, bust it, bust it the whole time."
That's because Osborne plans to dress 11 players, down from his usual 14-15.
Tough practices are the norm for Osborne, who says that two things he believes are "if you're going to be successful, you've got to compete every day. And, then, I think 'practice is everything.'"
Smaller numbers, though, have led to changes.
"With 11 guys, I've probably given these guys more time off than I ever have a team, and I think they've responded," Osborne says. "They've handled that well because they've come in after the days off and practiced well. Usually I'm a six-day-a-week guy. This year, I've been a five-day-a-week guy, and throwing in random days off. So far we've been fresh and handled that well."
Gray will start at point, Moses in the post.
A pair of former Scott County stars who began college careers elsewhere, Matt Walls (Marshall) and Rodney Haddix (Miami, Ohio) are on the wings. San Diego State transfer Tyrone Shelley, Dillon Boggs and Russ Middleton all will play, and Johonne Hamilton can take over for Gray.
With Moses, Georgetown's bangers include Pearson, Crutcher and another transfer, former Madison Central standout Aaron Morris.
"If you go back to 'practice is everything,' I think all 11 guys have earned the opportunity to play," Osborne says. "It's funny, in practices we're very thin. But in the scrimmages, I felt like our depth has been good."
Osborne says seniors Walls, 6-3, and Boggs, 6-0, are much improved.
The coach says he'll be careful not to overwork Pearson, holding him to two or three practices a week.
"Our biggest question marks are we've got to be healthy and we've got to be extremely physical," Osborne says. "Are we tough enough? Are we physical enough to withstand the pounding that is the Mid-South Conference?"
The Tigers will continue to play up-tempo and emphasize defense. They'll press, choke ball reversals and try for 50 deflections each game.
With newcomers Virginia-Wise and Shawnee State, the MSC has 10 teams. That's an 18-game league schedule, plus MSC Tournament. Georgetown's non-league foes include NAIA powers Embry-Riddle, Texas College and Life.
"Our schedule's insane-good," Osborne says. "We usually play one or two teams where we win by a great margin. None of those teams (now). With the new conference teams, we don't have to do that anymore."
The goal, as the banners show, is clear: NAIA glory.
"When we do get to the NAIA national tournament ... we get the first game out of the way, that's just like getting the monkey off our back," Gray says. "It's been like two years in a row we haven't made it past the first round. Once we get that monkey off our back, I think we'll be more relaxed and we won't be as tense, and I think we'll be ready to go."