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Season Preview: Wonder Boys Aim For 3-Peat

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Can Arkansas Tech win a third consecutive Gulf South Conference men’s basketball championship? History indicates that the answer might be yes.

Arkansas Tech will open its 2010-11 men’s basketball schedule by hosting Ozark Christian on Monday, Nov. 15. Tip-off at Tucker Coliseum in Russellville is scheduled for 7 p.m.

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This year will mark the Wonder Boys’ final season in the GSC. Arkansas Tech and eight other institutions will form a new NCAA Division II conference in 2011-12. The last time Arkansas Tech changed conferences was in the mid-1990s, when the university transitioned from membership in the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics (NAIA) and the Arkansas Intercollegiate Conference to NCAA Division II and the GSC. The Wonder Boys capped their AIC era by winning the league’s final three men’s basketball championships in 1993, 1994 and 1995. A decade-and-a-half later, Arkansas Tech has an opportunity to close out its GSC era with another men’s basketball three-peat in 2009, 2010 and 2011. The Wonder Boys return three starters and seven lettermen from a team that was 30-2 overall, champion of the Gulf South Conference West Division, champion of the GSC Tournament and a participant in the NCAA Division II Tournament in 2009-10. Arkansas Tech is picked to win the GSC West Division regular season title and it is ranked No. 13 in the preseason NCAA Division II men’s basketball top 25. First-year head coach Doug Karleskint, who served as Mark Downey’s top assistant in 2009-10, inherits a program with expectations that would have been unimaginable a short time ago. Arkansas Tech had nine losing men’s basketball seasons in the 10 campaigns from 1997-98 through 2006-07. In the three years since, the Wonder Boys have posted a cumulative overall record of 71-22 and made three consecutive postseason appearances. “Our goals are to win the conference championship, be undefeated at home and host another NCAA regional,” said Karleskint. “It’s been a transition period. Obviously, we want to do a lot of the same things that Coach Downey had these guys do. We want to play fast. We are going to press. We’re going to use the dribble drive, attack the rim and shoot the 3. But there are also some new things, and there’s been a learning curve there. We want to get better each practice and avoid peaks and valleys.” Senior guard Laithe Massey of Heber Springs and senior forwards Jeremy Dunbar of Niceville, Fla., and James Causey of Tangipahoa, La., return from last year’s starting line-up. Massey was named All-GSC West Division in 2009-10. He averaged 9.3 points and 4.8 rebounds per game while ranking fifth in the GSC in both assists (3.7 per game) and assist-to-turnover ratio (1.9-to-1). Dunbar is the Wonder Boys’ leading returning scorer. He averaged 11.9 points per game and ranked seventh in the GSC in 3-point field goals made (2.1 per game). Causey averaged 5.0 points and 4.4 rebounds per game in 2009-10. He led the team and ranked third in the conference in steals (57). Other returnees for the Wonder Boys include senior guard Willie Sanders of Jacksonville, Fla., senior center James Giles of New Brunswick, N.J., junior guard Matt Haney of Dardanelle, sophomore guard Chase White of Fort Smith. Freshman guard Kendell Pinkney of Dardanelle will join the active roster in 2010-11 after redshirting last season. “All of our returnees are helping our coaching staff work with the new guys,” said Karleskint. “Whenever our veterans are not on the floor, they are pulling a young guy to the side and coaching him up. It helps me as the head coach when you have those experienced guys who know what it takes to win games in the conference and win games in the NCAA Tournament.” Ridas Pulkauninkas, a senior forward from Lithuania, and Johnie Davis, a junior guard from Canton, Ohio, figure to be two of the Wonder Boys’ top newcomers. Pulkauninkas is a transfer from NCAA Division I Mercer University, where he appeared in 27 games during the 2009-10 season. Previous to his time at Mercer, Pulkauninkas averaged 13.2 points per game and shot 44 percent from 3-point range while helping Lon Morris Junior College (Texas) post a 25-6 record in 2008-09. Davis comes to Arkansas Tech from Gulf Coast Community College. He averaged a team-high 13.6 points per game for a 2009-10 Gulf Coast team that finished 18-11 overall. Other new names on the Wonder Boys’ roster include junior forwards Blake Mitchem of Fort Smith and Daimion Garrett of Evansville, Ind.; sophomore guard Jared Williamson of Russellville; and freshmen guards Ricky Allen of Little Rock and Jacob Pio of Romance.