Nashville, Tenn. - The Tennessee State men's basketball opened fall practice on Friday in preparation of the team's first contest on Nov. 5 against Fisk.
The Tigers are coming off of one of the most successful seasons in recent history and the team returns four starters. While Tennessee State returns most of its impact players from a year ago, the team will feature a new head coach in Travis Williams.
After coaching at the school as an assistant for three seasons, Williams was awarded the head coach position in April. As the top assistant last season, Williams helped restore a winning attitude to the Tigers' program. The Big Blue recorded just nine wins in 2009-10, while improving to 14 victories in 2010-11. Last season, the Tigers completed a 20-13 mark.
Last season, Covington led the team in points per game and rebounds per game with 17.8 and 7.9, respectively. At six-foot-nine, Covington is always a threat to score in the low-post, but he really shines from behind the three-point line. He attempted the most three pointers on the team last season (145), but he also made the highest percentage of his shots from behind the arc (.448).
While Covington excelled at making outside shots last season, he also had the benefit of playing with a point guard who could feed him the ball in Miller. The Chicago Ill. native led the team with 118 assists last season and also averaged double-digits points per game (10.8). Miller also played his part on the defensive end of the floor, tallying a team-high 51 steals and 120 rebounds.
Covington and Miller will play an integral part for the Tigers this season, but the team also has good leadership across the board with four seniors. Two of those seniors are Jordan Cyphers and Kellen Thornton.
Cyphers, a guard who transferred from Utah, averaged eight points per contest in his first season at Tennessee State and was another deep shooting threat- out of his 198 shots, 121 were from beyond the three-point line. Cyphers made 44 of those shots for a percentage of .364.
Thornton is another transfer that TSU picked up from Illinois State, and he made a splash with the team in his first season. Thornton was third on the team in points per game (9.1) and second in both field goal percentage (.525) and rebounds per contest (4.5).
Rounding out the starting five is sophomore M.J. Rhett. Rhett, a native of Hopkins S.C., started 26 games last season as a freshman and played mostly the power forward position. Rhett had the second most rebounds on the team last year (147) and recorded 14 blocks.
The non-conference schedule looks daunting with games at Missouri and BYU, but the Tigers hope that a tough opening slate will allow them to improve upon last year's second place finish in the Ohio Valley Conference.
Hear what Williams thought of his first practice as TSU head coach below: