Last updated: June 18. 2014 8:04PM - 467 Views
By - keckleberry@civitasmedia.com

The LaGrange College Panthers celebrate after winning the USA South championship last season. The Panthers will try to keep the good times going next season.LaGrange College photo
The LaGrange College Panthers celebrate after winning the USA South championship last season. The Panthers will try to keep the good times going next season.LaGrange College photo
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It was an enormously satisfying season for the LaGrange College men’s basketball team.

The Panthers enjoyed one of the finest seasons in the history of the program, and they became the first LaGrange College men’s team to advance to the NCAA Division III national tournament.

The goal now is to make sure the kind of success the Panthers enjoyed during the 2013-2014 season becomes a regular thing.

The Panthers appear poised to keep the good times rolling next season.

Despite losing some key seniors to graduation, the Panthers have plenty of talent returning as they look to build on the success they enjoyed last season.

“We lost a lot of firepower with the guys we graduated. But I feel good about the guys we have coming back,” LaGrange College coach Kendal Wallace said on Tuesday during his youth basketball camp. “I’m excited about our program.”

In addition to the returning players, Wallace has brought in a freshman class he feels good about, although he isn’t sure if any of them will actually see time with the varsity team next season.

The freshmen will play, though.

One of the things Wallace wanted to do when he took over as the Panthers’ head coach in 2011 was to create a freshman team.

He did that, and he feels it’s a great way for the freshmen to acclimate to life in college, on the court and off.

“Since we’ve been here, we’ve started a varsity reserve program. We’re up to 14 games for them,” Wallace said. “As a freshman at any school, you’re going to battle the academic part of it, and the new-found freedom. Most of the kids that come to this school have never been away from home.”

Wallace also thinks having the freshman program will allow them to be better players down the road.

“By the time they’re juniors and seniors, they’re going to be pretty good players,” Wallace said. “They’ll have 28 games against junior colleges.”

Looking ahead to next season, the Panthers will have to replace some awfully good players, including post player Patrick Dugger, who was given the Delma Fowler Most Valuable Player Award.

Dugger led the team in scoring (16.5 points per game) and rebounding (10.2 per game), and he was a first-team all-conference player.

Denzel Robinson capped a terrific career with a strong senior season, and Jerod Howard and Dustin Baxter are also moving on after graduating.

The cupboard is hardly bare, though.

Among the returnees are three players, Mark Wagner, Nick Mitchell and Dustin Baxter, who averaged in double figures last season.

The Panthers won 18 games a year ago, and Wallace believes the 2014-2015 team can do even better.

“Coach (David) McGreal and I talk all the time about our coaching goals, and the things we’ve wanted to accomplish. And we’ve done quite a few of them,” Wallace said.

This coming season, Wallace said winning 20 games is a reachable goal.

If the Panthers could do that, they’d become the first men’s team at the school to win 20 games since the 1992-1993 team went 21-11.

“That’s kind of what we’re looking for,” Wallace said. “I think our schedule is set up where we can do that, with all the guys coming back. That’d be something nice for us. It’s another mark that hasn’t been made here at LaGrange for a long time.”

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