Hoop dreams include championship ring

Coming off its first winning season since 1992 and retaining Terrence Woods, the pre-season MEAC Player of the Year, the FAMU men’s basketball team is preparing to have another record-breaking season.

Head coaches and media relations directors from around the MEAC have picked the Rattlers as the favorite to win the 2003-2004 conference title.

“It’s the first time ever Florida A&M has been picked to win the league and it’s an honor,” head coach Mike Gillespie said. “Yet it’s not how we start it’s the way we finish. We want to finish in that position.”

Since Gillespie’s arrival from Tallahassee Community College three years ago, his impact on the team has been coined as the “Gillespie Effect,” an effect that changed an ordinary team into an extraordinary team. In 2002, the Rattlers finished 9-9 in the MEAC and 17-12 overall in 2003.

“We just want to continue to build on excellence,” Gillespie said. “We made it to the semifinals last year [in the MEAC tournament].

“Now, we want to take it one step further and win a championship. “

Gillespie has beefed up non-conference competition, playing top teams such as the University of Florida, Illinois State, Georgia and Marquette.

“We not only have a chance to play against the best players in the country but we have the chance to play in some great arenas and put the players in positions of great exposure,” Gillespie said.

After leading the nation with 139 three-pointers last year, Woods, a senior guard from Memphis, Tenn., returns for his final season. Crowned MEAC preseason Player of the Year and the winner of the Steitz Award, Woods hopes to be a primary factor in the teams’ success.

“My main thing is getting a conference ring,” Woods said. “This is going to be FAMU’s last year in the MEAC and my senior year, so it would be great to go out on top.”

The Steitz Award is given to the nation’s best male and female three-point shooter in memory of Edward Steitz, the “Father of the Three-Point Field Goal.”

The team’s success will also depend on fan support. We hope “fans will overflow Gaither Gym forcing games to move to the Civic Center,” said Interim Athletic Director J.R.E. Lee III.

Other key players on the roster include senior starting guard Demarcus Wilkins, who, Gillespie said, will score over 1,000 points in his career at FAMU, senior Moses White, who contributed an average of 28 points per game last season and Mike Ayodele, a junior forward, from Toronto.

O.J. Sumter, a senior forward is coming off his third knee surgery. Sumter is a 55 percent field goal shooter and had a tremendous impact on the team last year, but “it’s questionable whether he will participate this year,” said Gillespie.

The Rattlers have a lot of strengths, but rebounding could be a weakness because of size.

“We have a lot of guys who are very athletic, but we don’t have a big bruiser in the middle,” said Gillespie.

Glen Elliott a Jacksonville native and transfer from Temple University, is 6-foot-9 and 260 pounds and exactly what the team needs, but he will be sitting out this year because of NCAA transfer rules.

Newcomers to watch for are 5-foot-11 University of Pittsburgh transfer point guard Toney Tate; Michael Harper, a 6-foot-8 junior forward, who transferred from UNC-Asheville; and 6-foot-6, 215-pound Richard Russell, a sophomore forward from Chicago, Ill.

“Our goal is to never go backwards but continue to move forward, and be the best team in the nation,” said Gillespie.