Racers faces challenges following up record season


MURRAY, Ky. (AP) -- This season brings new pressure for Murray State.

The Racers were the last undefeated Division I team at 23-0 last year and finished a school-best 30-2. They had a top-10 ranking and made their 15th NCAA tournament appearance, losing 62-52 in the third-round to Marquette.

Murray State will need a team effort to duplicate that performance.

Senior point guard and All-American Isaiah Canaan and Ed Daniel are the Racers' only returning starters. Their depth took a further hit with guard Zay Jackson's season-long suspension and forward Latreze Mushatt's right Achilles injury that will sideline him until at least February.

Coach Steve Prohm believes his Racers will rise up to meet the challenges.

"There are going to be a lot of expectations and that's good," Prohm said. "You want to be at a program like Murray State where the expectations are going to be to win and win at a high level. We have to keep everything just like we did last year, on an even keel, take it game to game and just get better as a team and get our chemistry back."

The biggest threat to the Racers' chemistry came in September when Jackson was charged with two counts of second-degree assault after striking two victims with his car in a Wal-Mart parking lot. Projected to ascend into being a key contributor this season, he pleaded guilty to wanton endangerment and agreed to a 30-day sentence to be served on weekends.

After surveillance video of the encounter later surfaced on the Internet showing one of the victims on the hood of his Chevy Monte Carlo, Jackson was suspended on Oct. 24 for the season.

"I care a great deal about Zay and am committed to seeing that he gets the help that he needs," Prohm said. "What he did was wrong and I want to apologize to everyone that has been negatively affected and embarrassed by his actions.

"Although the impact on our basketball teams is something we'll have to work hard to overcome, I support the direction we are taking with this matter. I know we have a good group of young men that will work hard to represent Murray State the right way."

There certainly will be opportunities for several Racers.

Jackson's suspension follows Mushatt's injury in July, erasing another projected starter. Prohm hopes he'll return by the Ohio Valley Conference tournament.

"It's a tough situation for him personally and also for our team," Prohm said. "Now you've lost four starters from last year's team, not just three. So we'll adjust and some guys are going to have to step up and play bigger roles."

The good news is Canaan is back and appears ready to be an even bigger leader after starting each game last season. He averaged 19.0 points and topped 30 points four times.

"It's my senior year and I couldn't ask for anything better," Canaan said. "For the three years I've been here everything has been good and I'm expecting another great season out of the team and out of myself personally.

"It's going to be a challenge and I'm looking forward to it. I've been working all summer to better myself so I can better the team and I feel like it's going to be another great season."

The defending conference champions and preseason favorites face a stacked schedule including Old Dominion, Dayton and Valparaiso as well as the Charleston Classic later this month. However, finishing one game short of the Sweet 16 two of the past three years has only made the Racers more determined.

"Just expect a hungry team," Canaan said. "We've got a taste of how success is and we want to experience the same things so the team is very hungry and we will be ready to play at all times."

Daniel averaged 5.5 rebounds and 6.8 points per game last season before joining Canaan at two NBA camps last summer. One of his best games came during the loss to Marquette when he grabbed 14 rebounds, one shy of the school's single-game tournament record.

Seniors Stacy Wilson and Brandon Garrett and junior Dexter Fields also return for Murray State.

But it all starts with Prohm and Canaan. With a buzz surrounding the Racers, the coach said the Racers will be able to handle the attention and the expectations.

"We will be fun to watch play and we'll put ourselves in a position to be very, very successful," he said. "How successful? I don't know, but I like our chances, I like our team, I like our guys and now we've just got to get to work and get going.

"Isaiah isn't sneaking up on anybody, Ed (Daniel) isn't sneaking up on anybody and we're going to have to be extra prepared each and every day for practice and for the games."