Maestri: Troy can still turn season around

Published 12:00 am Sunday, February 3, 2008

Troy University basketball coach Don Maestri has done a lot throughout his career.

He’s led Troy for 26 years, through the days in Division II through the Big South and the Atlantic Sun conferences – he even led Troy to a NCAA tournament berth in 2004.

But this season has been tumultuous – watching the Trojans win games they shouldn’t (North Texas) and lose games they shouldn’t (Arkansas-Little Rock).

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Maestri thinks the Trojans (10-11, 3-7 Sun Belt) still have great opportunities ahead of them.

&uot;We have had a lot of close losses,&uot; said Trojan Head Coach Don Maestri. &uot;We knew going in to the season the league would be the best it’s been in years.&uot;

Sun Belt teams have played on the road in major conferences and come home with victories. Sun Belt teams have defeated teams from the likes of the Big 12, Big 10, and the ACC this season.

&uot;All of the teams in our league beat up on each other in league play,&uot; Maestri said. &uot;The records don’t really show how good they (Sun Belt teams) are, and our team has competed well with all of them.&uot;

The Trojans have eight games left in Sun Belt play (seven after Saturday’s contest against New Orleans), and are looking to turn the recent disappointment around before the Sun Belt Conference Tournament.

&uot;We’re going to have to start playing good basketball,&uot; said Maestri. &uot;We aren’t good enough to go out and play bad and still win the game.&uot;

The Trojans’ attitude is still strong despite their record.

&uot;I look forward to going to practice each day,&uot; Maestri said. &uot;No matter what happens the game before, these guys always feel like they can win the next game. We have a reputation of playing hard around this league.&uot;

The Trojans have fought through

injuries for a good part of the season. Senior Justin Jonus is battling a knee injuring and back spasms, while Tom Jervis has been playing through a strained calf.

&uot;(Jervis has) fought through his injury and played, but his calf has been bothering him all season,&uot; Maestri said.

Cold spells on the court have lost the Trojans many close games this season. The Trojans have had trouble scoring at times this season, and it has often been detrimental to the fast-paced offense play style in games.

&uot;The key to our team is offense,&uot; Maestri said. &uot;You can’t be aggressive if you can’t score, and you can’t press if you can’t score.&uot;

The press and three-point shooting are hallmarks of Troy’s game. The Trojan offensive mindset is a fast paced style of play. Troy tries to outrun and let their conditioning shine through in each contest.

&uot;We have a very unique system of play,&uot; Maestri said. &uot;A lot of teams in the Sun Belt like to slow down the game,&uot; Maestri said.

But Troy has proven very beatable when teams are successful in slowing down the Trojans’ offensive attack.

The Trojans are down but not out on the season. The teams’ optimism is high for the upcoming stretch of games. Troy will need good play from its senior leadership to get over the hump.

&uot;If (O’Darien) Bassett’s on his game, we’re real good,&uot; Maestri said. &uot;He is a good player, and good players make the players around them better.&uot;

Troy has looked unbeatable at times when Justin Jonus and Bassett have good games at the same time.

&uot;We have also had aggressive play from Jarvis Acker and good shooting from Jerome Odem,&uot; Maestri said.

The problem for Troy is getting all those elements to gel at the same time.

&uot;We haven’t made excuses,&uot; Maestri said. &uot;We’re just not playing good basketball right now.&uot;

Maestri is in his 26th season as Troy’s head coach, and he is no stranger to rebuilding a team. Troy has faced increasingly tougher competition since the jump to the NCAA’s highest level of play. The Trojans started sluggish when they joined the Atlantic-Sun Conference, a stretch similar to this one. Troy got over the hump then, winning four conference titles in five tries, and Maestri believes Troy will eventually do it again in the Sun Belt.

&uot;All it takes is one guy,&uot; Maestri said. &uot;How can one player make a difference? Take Tom Brady from the (New England) Patriots and they are a totally different team. One guy is 20 percent of our team on the floor, and one guy can make a difference.&uot;

Troy is improving, but growth is sometimes slow. The Trojans are steadily working to improve their Sun Belt stock.

&uot;Overall, we’re better than last year,&uot; said Maestri. &uot;Our goal is to be competitive in every game.&uot;

For the better part of the season, Troy has been competitive. Troy has the ability to stay in games, but can they close them out? The remaining stretch will tell the tale.