Young Trojans hungry for success in 2023-2024

Published 12:38 pm Thursday, November 2, 2023

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The Troy Trojans start the 2023-2024 men’s basketball season next Monday, Nov. 6, and are hard at work with a lot of new faces.

Head Coach Scott Cross is quick to point to the team chemistry his squad has already formed in the preseason.

“I think our team chemistry is as good as any team that I’ve coached,” he emphasized. “That’s one of the things that gets me most excited about this group. They really kind of have a special bond and like each other.

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“It’s not just on the court, they hang out off the court, as well. They’re always together. So, it’s not a team of a bunch of different cliques. They genuinely really like each other. It’s a fun group to be around.”

The 2023-2024 Trojans feature a young group of freshmen and transfers that bring some excitement to the program.

“We’re young. That’s a good and a bad thing,” Cross said. “It’s a bad thing because you don’t have a bunch of guys that have been there and have that experience and know what you want. It’s a good thing because you have a group of guys that are eager to learn and continue to get better every day.

“I think we’ve already improved tremendously since the fall started and even more since we had them in the summer. I think this is a team that will continue to get better and better throughout the year as some of these young guys really pick up what we’re doing and how we want to defend and rebound.”

Troy’s Christyon Eugene, left, and Aameer Muhammad, right, were selected to the Preseason All-Sun Belt team. (Photos courtesy of Troy University Athletics)

Returning seniors Christyon Eugene and Aameer Muhammad – both Preseason All-Sun Belt selections – are the glue that holds the team together.

“Aamer and (Christyon) are our two captains. They’re our two seniors and are doing an outstanding job of leading our team,” Cross said of his senior returners. “One of our core values is being selfless and we went around the team talking about that and both of their names came up repeatedly. One of the (young players) said they were off somewhere to eat and didn’t have any money with him and one of those guys paid for his meal.

“Another guy spoke up and said that they needed a ride somewhere and one of them drove them where they needed to be. The guys called their names out 3-4 times in that huddle and that made my heart swell knowing our older senior guys that have been here are out there helping take care of some of the newer guys. That’s a great sign for a basketball team when your older guys aren’t acting entitled.”

Eugene averaged 12 points, three rebounds, 2.6 assists and 1.3 steals per game last season, while Muhammad averaged 10 points, two rebounds, 2.4 assists and one steal per game.

Cross beams when talking about many of the new faces on the team, which includes incoming freshman Myles Rigsby and his brother, junior college (JUCO) transfer Marcus Rigsby Jr.

“Myles Rigsby has been really good for us. He’s one of our toughest players and one of our best defenders already,” Cross said. “He’s really blossoming right before our eyes. He’ll play a lot of minutes for us and his brother, Marcus, has been doing great, too.

“Yesterday, we had a day off but Marcus came in and got two workouts in anyway, which shows his commitment to getting better and helping us win a championship. Both of those guys will have big roles for us.”

Cross also pointed out LA Southwest transfer Randarius Jones, Eastern Arizona College transfer Theo Seng, Ranger College transfer Tayton Conerway and Dothan freshman Thomas Dowd as newcomers that have stood out in the preseason.

“Theo Seng is a guy that’s always in here watching film trying to learn and get better and works his butt off. He’s always in the right place for us defensively,” Cross continued. “Thomas Dowd has been one of our best rebounders. He’s relentless crashing the offensive boards and is a really, really good defender. Two of our better defenders are freshmen in Myles Rigsby and Thomas Dowd, which is exciting to think that freshmen can pick up what you want them to do so quickly. That really gets you fired up.

“Tayton Conerway is a guard that was a JUCO All-American last year. He’s a dynamic scorer, a pure scorer. He’s got great vision where he can see his teammates and make great passes and create open shots. Randarius Jones is a big, strong, physical post player. He’s also one of our best offensive rebounders. He’s so tough and physical and does a good job moving his feet and is a good screener for us and can finish around the basket.”

Another newcomer that will be joining the team a little later is Mexico native Victor Valdes, who is currently playing alongside his countrymen in the Pan-Am Games in Chile. Valdes is expected to join the team in time for the second game of the season.

“His vision and passing ability is one of the best I’ve ever coached,” Cross said. “He has to continue to get leaner and work on his conditioning. He came in a little heavy but he’s dropping some pounds already and as he does that I think his game will really take off.”

Size is a common denominator amongst the new faces. Of Troy’s 11 freshmen and transfers, seven are 6-foot-6-inches or more. Dowd checks in at 6-foot-8, while Valdes and Jones are 6-foot-7-inches. Both Jerrell Bellamy and Theo Seng are 6-foot-9-inches. Those big men join returning 6-foot-8-inch sophomore Jackson Fields and 6-foot-7-inch redshirt freshman Randi Ovalle.

After winning 20 or more games in back-to-back seasons, Cross and his Trojans want to continue that trend.

“We want to win more games than we did last year, so 20+ wins but we also would love to break the school record for the most wins in a season,” Cross said of goals this season. “I think that’s attainable. It will be tough but it’s something I think we can achieve. We also want to win the conference championship and get to the NCAA Tournament.

“We want to get better every day, which is a daily goal for us. Our goals won’t change much but I do think this team, if we can put it all together, has a chance to do something really, really special.”

The Trojans will open the season on Monday, Nov. 6, hosting Fort Lauderdale for an 11 a.m. tipoff at Trojan Arena.

“We want to hold them to under 40 percent and crush them on the glass,” Cross said of the season opener. “That has to be the goal for us. We want to beat them in number of turnovers we create versus the number they create. If we can do those things, I think we have a great opportunity to have a great day.”