Cross and Trojans tip-off season against UAB

Published 7:34 pm Tuesday, November 5, 2019

The Troy Trojans men’s basketball team returns to the court on Thursday night to take on in-state rival UAB in the season opener.

Thursday’s game marks the beginning of Scott Cross era at Troy University. After a long preseason camp, Cross believes his team is ready to hit the floor under the bright lights on Thursday night.

“We’ve had more good days than bad,” Cross said. “The bad days have definitely been few and far between. When it all comes down to it, you have to perform two to three days a week. As a coach, you want to make sure that your good days are going to be on game day. Hopefully we’ll be there. I think the guys have Improved over the fall semester and we are heading in the right direction.”

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The Trojans enter the season having been picked last in the conference by its coaches. The Trojans lost key players including Jordon Varnado, Alex Hicks and Javon Johnson, who transferred to Iowa State.

“I think it’s just the unknown,” Cross said. “There are a lot of really good teams in the Sun Belt. I’m trying to do the poll too and who are you going to pick at the bottom? It’s hard to tell. Conference championships aren’t won in the polls.”

The Trojans will use it as motivation heading into the season.

“We put that in a group chat and we use it as motivation every day,” Junior Darian Adams said. “We play with a chip on our shoulder. We know we have to prove people wrong.”

Cross has stressed the importance of defense all offseason. He dedicated a stretch of time to a defensive boot camp all in efforts of making sure his defense is ready to play. Nick Stampley is one player that has stood out as a player to watch.

“He’s a guy that, every time we close out, he’s going to put his hands up,” Cross said. “He’s going to jump to the ball every time. He’s going to block out every time. He’s the poster child of everything that we preach to our guys. He sets the tone for us and he’s fun to coach. We have a couple of other guys that are right there close to doing that. When you get two, three, four guys doing that, you have a chance to be really special.”

Zay Williams finished last season averaging just two points per game. This season, Cross believes he has the potential to be the most improved player on the roster.

“He has probably been our best all-around scorer,” Cross said. “He has really blossomed. He has been getting in the gym extra after practice. He is a guy who can keep improving at that rate, he is going to be a guy that NBA scouts want to look at. He’s 6” 9’, he can shoot the three, he can pass it. He is a good defender. He can check all the boxes.”

Another player to watch this season will be Charles Henderson alum Jalen Tuck. Tuck walked on prior to last season and saw minimal playing time. Although he may not get that much playing time again this season, he continues to make an impact on the team.

“Jalen, I absolutely love,” Cross said. “He works his butt off. He is going to do every little thing. He’s probably not going to get a lot of playing time this year, but he is a guy down the road that maybe when he is a junior or senior can get some minutes. I am very thankful he is on our team.”

Tip-off between the Trojans and Blazers is scheduled for 7 p.m.