The 15 players wearing blue-and-silver uniforms didn’t sign with Dalton State College thinking a championship would come right away.
But being part of a first-year men’s basketball program hasn’t taken away their expectation of winning — or having fun on the court.
“I know this town is ready for basketball,” senior shooting guard Ricky Sears said, “and we’re going to give them a show.”
The Roadrunners will begin their efforts to rebuild a once-rich tradition of winning at the school when they tip off their 2012-13 season at 7 p.m. central time Wednesday at Spring Hill College in Mobile, Ala. The Roadrunners will play 30 official games and two exhibition contests this season, including 16 home games at the trade center in Dalton. The home opener is Nov. 7 against Hiwassee College of Madisonville, Tenn.
Dalton State became a member of the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics (NAIA) this summer but won’t have a conference home for any of its sports during the 2012-13 school year. As a result, the Roadrunners won’t be able to compete for NAIA championships or postseason berths.
Those drawbacks didn’t stop head coach Tony Ingle — who led Kennesaw State to an NCAA Division II national title in 2004 and guided the Owls to a victory against Georgia Tech in 2010, after the program moved up to Division I — from recruiting players from six different states who have been working to become a team despite being strangers just a few months ago.
“We’re all going to play together,” said junior Preston Earle, who can play both guard and forward. “Some players will have good games and other players other games. When we get together, we’ll be trouble.”
The roster is made up of three seniors, seven juniors, two sophomores and three freshmen. The only Roadrunner from a high school in Murray or Whitfield counties is junior Caz Cole.
The 2009 Dalton High School graduate signed with Columbus State — he was redshirted his freshman season — before transferring to Auburn University at Montgomery (Ala.), where he played the past two seasons.
O’Shea Hill, who was a senior last season at Northwest Whitfield High School, signed with the Roadrunners in the spring, but Ingle said Hill is now attending Georgia Northwestern Technical College. He isn’t listed on the roster posted on the GNTC athletics website (bobcatscountry.com).
“Everyone asked me about how I made up this team,” Ingle said. “I didn’t want all freshmen. I wanted some from each class. I wanted a few seniors, a few juniors, a few sophomores and a few freshmen. I didn’t want all freshmen. I wanted some older guys to be the role models and teach the younger guys.”
One of those seniors, Sears, followed assistant coach John Redman from Spring Hill and is expected to be a starter for the Roadrunners when they take on his old school on Wednesday. The 6-foot-2-inch, 190-pound Sears played his freshman and sophomore seasons at junior colleges in Alabama. When he transferred to Spring Hill, he was one of the top-10 junior college players in the country, according to Dalton State’s website.
Sean Tate (5-8, 140) is the likely starter at point guard. He played two seasons at Chattahoochee Tech, a junior college in Marietta, and averaged 14 points and 2.4 rebounds per game last season. Raheem Mosley (6-9, 205) will plant in the post for much of the season. He played two years at Alabama’s Marion Military Institute.
Ingle is less certain about the other two spots in the starting lineup, along with the bench rotation.
“It’ll take a few games to get that sorted out,” Ingle said. “I could have some players who don’t play well in front of fans or some players who play better than they practice.”
Dalton State’s schedule includes 23 games against NAIA schools and eight games against schools from Georgia. The Roadrunners will play exhibitions against NCAA Division I programs Jacksonville State and Austin Peay State University.
This isn’t the first time Dalton has had a college basketball team, but it is the first time in a while.
When Dalton State College was still known as Dalton Junior College, it had a men’s basketball team from 1968 to 1978, with home games played on campus at Bandy Gymnasium. With Melvyn Ottinger as head coach, the Roadrunners went 231-78, won division titles in 1970 and 1974, captured state titles in 1970 and 1972, and brought home regional championships in 1972 and 1973. Twice the Roadrunners advanced to the national tournament, and in 1972 they finished ranked No. 2 in the country in the coaches poll.
Living up to winning expectations is part of the job for Ingle, who graduated from North Whitfield High School and played at Dalton Junior College from 1971 to 1973. The trade center can hold about 1,950 fans for basketball, and through mid-October some 720 season tickets had been sold, which athletic director Derek Waugh called an impressive number — and one he believes shows how invested the community is in the re-launched Roadrunners.
“I know Tony feels the weight of the world on his shoulders to win every game,” Waugh said. “In season one, that’s just so unrealistic. Anything worth building takes time.”
Wins are nice, but Ingle said his ruler for measuring the team’s success won’t be its record at the end of this season. His goals include creating a buzz for future years and giving fans a reason to return to the trade center.
“I want to put out a competitive team that plays hard and the fans can be proud of and enjoy watching,” Ingle said. “I worked here in Dalton. I worked in the carpet mills and taught at two of the high schools. I want people to get off work and have the choice to go watch a basketball game and be entertained. Sure, I’d like to win, but building a program takes time.”