When Fort Scott Community College head men's basketball coach Michael Cook was hired before the 2008-09 season, he realized that building a competitive program basically from scratch wasn't going to be done quickly.
"When I got hired, I said it would be the fourth year before we started winning because we were building from scratch," Cook said Tuesday morning. "And being here longer than most coaches, it's kind of coming together and I like the direction we're going. We want to be a program that's going to win every year, not win one year then go down and have to rebuild again."
Year four begins Thursday night with the first game of the Hutchinson Quarterback Classic. The Greyhounds will face host Hutchinson at 7:30 p.m. Friday, they will play Central Florida Community College at 3:30. Saturday, they'll wrap up the weekend against Parkland, Ill. at 3:30.
The Greyhounds went just 5-28 last season and finished in ninth place in the Jayhawk Conference-Eastern Division. Although Cook will have eight sophomores -- three returning players and five transfers -- the conference's coached put Fort Scott in last place in the pre-season poll.
"Being picked 10th, I don't know if it bothers us but I know it motivates us," Cook said. "And I think it also shows that we have a way to go -- not too far -- but still have some growing to do in order to get some respect from the rest of the conference."
Julian Mills (5' 11", Soph., Colorado Springs, Colo.) returns at point guard. He was seventh the Eastern Division in assists last season with 3.5 per game. He also averaged about 6 points per game. He missed the last four games of last season due to a knee injury.
Mills, who was working out in Arnold Arena during the interview, stayed in Fort Scott during the summer and also played in a pro-am summer league to gain experience.
"This is the first time we've had a solid point guard coming back in my tenure," Cook said. " He's had a good showing so far in pre-season scrimmages. If he continues to grow and get better, this team will grow and get better."
Forward Teance Walton (6' 5", Soph., Wichita) returns after averaging about 9 points and 7 rebounds last season even though he played most of the time out of position at power forward.
"I think he creates problems for other teams, running the floor with them as a four," Cook says. "He's gotten a little stronger. He's playing great right now. He's always going to give us everything he's got but he needs to be consistent with his effort. Giving a consistent effort and increasing his range, I think he'll be fine."
Sheldon Hayes (6' 8", Soph., Hewitt, Texas) returns in the paint and is a little leaner, having lost 30 points over the summer.
"He's had some good showings in the last few weeks," Cook said. "He's going to give us some valuable minutes. How many's going to depend on his endurance."
Some of the new sophomores will be able to give Mills relief at the point. Darren Givhan (6' 0", Soph., Leavenworth) was a point guard at Johnson County for the 2008-09 Division II national champion team. Desean Miles (6' 3", Soph., Dallas) spent one year at Southern University before sitting out. Derrick Thomas (6' 0", Soph., Elgin, Okla.) played at Colby in 2008-09, averaging 9 points and 4 assists per game.
Dallas Driver (5' 11", Soph., Wichita) is a shooting guard who redshirted at Oklahoma Christian before coming to Fort Scott. Tony McGilveary (6' 7", Soph., Fort Worth, Texas) also was at Southern for one year. The forward has performed well in the pre-season, Cook says, scoring 27 points against Pratt in one scrimmage and 21 versus Colby in another.
Derrick Green (6' 3", Kansas City, Kan.) is one of the Greyhounds' three freshmen. Cook expects him to be one of the team's best defenders. He's one of two rookie shooting guards along with Austin Danner (5' 11", Shawnee Mission), who is also a good defender. Torrell Nickerson (6' 5", Fr., Topeka) rounds off a crop of players that Cook feels is the best group of in-state athletes the Greyhounds have had in a while.
"We're deeper than we've probably been," Cook says. "Out of those 11, we'll probably go 9 or 10 deep, which gives us some flexibility and Julian won't get worn down playing so many minutes at that spot because we have four guys at that spot.
"When you have eight sophomores, you have the luxury to do some things. And we have three freshmen we think can contribute right away."
Maurice Fields, who redshirted at Hutchinson last season, will be eligible to play at semester. He needs just three credit hours.
This group is one Cook feels can move up higher in the standings than expected because of the experience of its sophomores. He noted that Coffeyville is the favorite to win the East but that the Red Ravens have just two sophomores returning.
"You'll see basketball played the right way," Cook says, "which is good passes, great defense and teamwork. And we're going to work hard and represent Fort Scott Community College and Fort Scott, Kansas, in the way they should be represented."