HARTSVILLE, S.C. — The Coker University men’s basketball team is ready to hit the hardwood for the 2019-20 season.

With some experienced returners as well as some fresh faces, the Cobras look to re-establish themselves within the South Atlantic Conference.

First-year coach Jarred Merrill emphasizes culture with his new Coker squad.

“I think the biggest goal we’ve had so far is to change the culture,” Merrill said. “We’ve been able to do some of that here in the first few months. As far as expectations, we just try to win every day. It’s about how we attack every day in the classroom, in the weight room, in practice, in individual workouts and also how we handle ourselves in the community.”

Merrill went on to explain how a culture change impacts what he wants his team to strive for and how it performs night in and night out.

“We’d like to make the conference tournament and have a good season, but it’s all about what we do every day and that will be a by-product of what we do if we can handle each day like grown men,” he said.

Coker returns 12 players from a season ago with eight sophomores, three juniors and one senior.

“There’s a bunch of young talent in this returning group; kids that can grow into good players,” Merrill added.

Merrill’s first recruiting class consists of four transfers and three freshmen.

“I’ve been pleased with the work ethic of the freshmen, but it will take them a little time as they continue to figure things out,” he said. “We will look to our transfers for immediate help. We’re looking for those four to really step up and help us, and hopefully some of the freshmen can find their way in and contribute as well.”

Merrill is pleased with how the returners and freshmen have come together as a unit.

“They’re as close as any team can be right now,” he said. “They’ve gone through it all together, and as we go they will get even tighter as a group.”

Merrill noted that he holds his lone senior, A.J. McQuaige, to extremely high expectations in terms of leadership and experience.

“I expect A.J. to lead, to be unselfish and to be the hardest worker we have,” he said.

The season begins with three non-conference games before jumping into South Atlantic Conference play. A home-and-home with Limestone College starts with the Cobras traveling to Gaffney on Wednesday followed by the Saints coming to Hartsville on Nov. 20.

Coker travels to Lander on Nov. 23 before opening up SAC play at Wingate on Nov. 26. Lincoln Memorial comes to town on Nov. 30 to conclude the opening month of the season.

“Our non-conference schedule has some tough games, while we start our conference slate with Wingate on Nov. 26,” said Merrill. “There’s not an easy spot in this league. There’s competition every night; you have to be ready. You have to recruit, you have to develop players, you have to have a system, you have to be on point every night.”

Merrill hopes for his first Cobra team to bring something special to Coker.

“I want people to support the product that we put on the floor,” he said. “I want people to be proud that we play the game the right way, that we’re good sportsmen who still play with a competitive edge and hopefully people see something that they haven’t seen before.”

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