In the media polls for the upcoming basketball season, the WCU men’s basketball team was picked to finish last in the SoCon North. The Cats received only 14 votes. They had zero players on the preseason all-conference teams. While the media is not very hyped about the Catamount’s chances for this season, Catamount faithful should be. Coach Larry Hunter gives the Western program the established veteran coach has lacked for a long time. Coach Hunter has a proven track record as a winner and really likes this year’s squad. “There is a lot of excitement and optimism created by this year’s basketball team. Personally and as a coach, I really like our team. It has a mix with six upper classmen and six newcomers,” said Hunter. Those six newcomers are true freshmen Brandon Giles, Omar Thomas, Brigham Waginger, Nick Aldridge, Jake Robinson, and junior college transfer Arnold Gore. The six newcomers represent the potential Western has for the upcoming year and beyond. Each newcomer is very talented and make up what might be one of the best recruiting classes in Western history. “The newcomers are a talented group. One recruiting service (Dave Telep) even tabbed the class `the best recruiting class in the Southern Conference.’ They are skilled and versatile. They all can shoot and pass, as well as giving us some needed size. Probably as important as that, they all come from winning programs. In fact, four of the six won state championships. We are in the position where we will have to look for several of these newcomers to step in and compete for playing time this year. However, all of these will be integral in our success this year and the future,” said Hunter. Among the six returning players are sharpshooter Kyle Greathouse, athletic Negus McKenna, and explosive scorer Antonio Russell. Hard-nosed defender Eric Wilson, transfer Josh Dees, and little-used sophomore big man Stan Johnson fill out the rest of the squad. “I am real excited about the upperclassmen. As people, they have `Bought the Bridge’ which is a term we have for people who are totally on board with our expectations in every aspect of the program, which is going to class, getting good grades, graduating, working hard in the weight room and on their games and being a positive, productive influence on campus as well as providing leadership for our newcomers. They are a hungry bunch who are committed to helping turn the program around,” said Hunter. The biggest problem for the Catamounts could be inside. The Cats don’t have a player over 6’8″ and are expected to rely on freshmen Aldridge, Thomas, and sophomore Johnson inside. “A cause for concern is that we do not have a real center or a veteran inside presence. Again, we will have to be able to shoot the basketball. We should cause problems for opposing defenses because we should be tough to guard as all five positions can shoot the `3′ and allow us to spread the floor,” said Hunter. Sometimes it’s not the size of the dog in the fight but the size of the fight in the dog, and after having 6’10” David Berghoefer for the last four years the lack of height might not really be a problem. The freshmen, Thomas and Aldridge, have been described as tough and aggressive inside. That is a trait that has been lacking since the graduation of Rans Brempong two years ago. The Catamounts play a weak home schedule, but don’t let that fool you into thinking they have a weak overall schedule. “The schedule is very challenging, facing five high-major teams with 13 of our first 18 being played on the road. Two things really come to my mind quickly when looking at the schedule. One, we only have 11 home games. That is not as many as we would like. We got caught with the league expanding its conference schedule and having to return several non-league games. Two, the five high-major games (versus one Big 10 team, two teams in Atlantic 10, one ACC and one SEC team) will be a challenge, especially considering our youth,” said Hunter. In the end, look for the Cats to really play well in the conference. With a difficult non-conference schedule the Catamount freshmen should be well-seasoned by SoCon play. The freshmen bring a significant level of talent to the program and should pay dividends this year. Don’t expect any last place finishes from this Catamount squad.