LEVELLAND — After nearly a 10 month hiatus, the South Plains College men's basketball team will step on the hardwood for the first time this season on Wednesday night when they host RPA College at 6 p.m. at the Texan Dome.
The contest will be the first of a shortened 21 game stint for the Texans who finished second a year ago in the Western Junior College Athletic Conference and second at the Region V Tournament in Abilene. South Plains secured an at-large bid to the 2020 NJCAA Men's Basketball National Tournament, which was ultimately canceled due to Covid-19.
"We're moving forward, and I appreciate the fact that our league, and I guess it goes all the way to the governor, that he's allowing the state to play," South Plains head coach Steve Green said. "I think it's been great, and hopefully we're going to get after it."
The Texans, who earned a No. 2 ranking in the NJCAA preseason poll and are picked to win the WJCAC, welcome back five players from last year's squad including WJCAC Freshman Player of the Year Rivaldo Soares, as well as big man Jevonnie Scott who recently signed to play for Texas A&M University next season. A 6-foot-6 guard from Boston, Soares did it all for South Plains as a freshman, leading the team in scoring with 15.4 points per game while shooting 42 percent from the floor including a 33.3 percent clip from distance. Soares played in all 31 games for the Texans a year ago, netting double figures in 25 of those including a career-high 24 points in the Texans' 58-52 win over Midland College on Jan. 20.
"The nucleus of our team was here last year, and you build on that," Green said. "There's an amazing amount of growth that goes on with first-year guys that come back for their sophomore year. They just get it, and they understand a whole lot more. We have Ben, Rivaldo, Yuot, Phil, Vonnie, and the fact that Myron was here and did not participate in games. These guys just understand it, and it puts them ahead of a team that hasn't played together."
Scott will anchor the Texans inside as the 6-foot-7 sophomore forward averaged 8.1 points per game and 4.1 rebounds per game as a freshman. The Toronto native shot 49.7 percent from the floor and 40.7 percent from the 3-point line, netting double figures in 10 games last season, including a 25 point performance in the Texans' 78-67 victory over Odessa College on Feb. 27.
The Texans also return Benjamin Bayela, a 6-foot-6 guard from France who was second on the team in scoring as a freshman with 12.2 points and 3.7 boards per game. Bayela shot a 40.8 percent clip from the field a year ago including a 38.3 percent mark from behind the arc, netting double figures in 18 games. Bayela capped his freshman season with six consecutive games in double figures, including a 22 point outing against Collin County Community College at the Region V Tournament.
Newcomer Myron Gardner will play a key role for the Texans this season after transferring from Georgetown University. A 6-foot-6 guard from Detroit, Gardner averaged 3.1 points and 2.9 boards per game while shooting 36.4 percent from the field. Gardner saw action in eight games, including 13 minutes against No. 1 Duke on Nov. 11.
Following Wednesday's season opener, the Texans will be back on their home court Jan. 22-23 when they host the 2021 Texan Basketball Classic. South Plains will take on Murray State College on Friday at 7 p.m., followed by a matchup with Strength 'N Motion on Saturday at 1 p.m. Fans are welcome to attend (mask required), and all home games this season can be watched live at spctexans.com.
Steve Green talks 2021 Texan basketball with Michael Wiiest of KLVT Radio Levelland
2021 WJCAC Men's Basketball Conference Schedule: