LEVELLAND — Coming off their third consecutive trip to the Final Four at the NJCAA Men's Basketball National Tournament, the South Plains College men's basketball team will be tested from the opening tip when they take on No. 15 Navarro College at 4 p.m. Friday in their season opener at the Juco Preseason Elite 8 at the University of Central Oklahoma.
Following Friday's contest, the Texans will match up with Missouri State University-West Plains at 2 p.m. on Saturday, followed by a trip to Plano for the Texas East vs. West Challenge where they will square off with Trinity Valley Community College on Nov. 8 at 2 p.m., before meeting Lamar State College-Port Arthur at 10 a.m. on Nov. 9.
The Texans, who earned a No. 8 preseason national ranking and are picked to win the Western Junior College Athletic Conference, do not return a single player from last season's Region V championship team, as they welcome 14 new players to Levelland for the 2019 season. Led by Hall of Fame coach Steve Green who begins his 20th season at South Plains and is just 10 wins shy of 500 victories in Levelland, the Texans will look for an early spark to the season when they tipoff in Oklahoma.
"We literally have 14 holes to fill, and I wouldn't envy that or wish that on anybody," Green said. "We're doing the best we can, and we knew it was going to happen when you start going down this transfer path like we have. We have a couple of guys who at this point are hurt somewhat, but the 11 or 12 guys we have out there are giving their best.
"I think this year this team is more balanced, whereas last year we were more three-four-five with Jonah Antonio, Trey Wade, and Gaige Prim. We really haven't discovered that just yet, but it seems to be more balanced than just individual talent."
The Texans welcome in Chance Moore, a 6-foot-7 redshirt freshman guard from Louisville, Kentucky who signed with Wichita State University out of high school. A four-star ESPN recruit from Fern Creek High School, Moore appeared in four games as a true freshman for the Shockers, totaling three points and three rebounds in 20 minutes of action. Moore averaged 16 points as a senior at Fern Creek, earning All-State honors from the Louisville Courier-Journal, leading the Tigers to their first-ever state tournament appearance and a 35-3 record.
South Plains will also look to Benjamin Bayela, a 6-foot-6 freshman guard from France who will be asked to be a catalyst for the Texans on both ends of the floor. Bayela averaged 15.8 points, 4.5 rebounds and 1.4 boards per game playing for Boulogne-Levallois in the Jeep Elite last year in France.
"Replacing this many guys is definitely the toughest challenge that you have, but the beauty of it is it's pretty relative," Green said. "It's not something that only South Plains has to deal with, and the better teams in the country are faced with the same challenge. We've been fairly successful at being able to put a group on the floor that can share responsibilities offensively and defensively, and this is the first time in my coaching career that I've had an entirely new team. This is a totally new experience."
Following consecutive road trips to begin the year, the Texans will make their home debut on Friday, Nov. 15 against Panola College at 7 p.m. at the Texan Dome as part of the Texan classic, before taking on Coastal Bend College at 2 p.m. on Nov. 16.
WJCAC Men's Preseason Poll as voted on by the coaches: