Based on everything the voters know about the Gamecocks to date, he called it a “logical choice.”
The Gamecocks, coming off a one-win season with a new coach, new staff and limited roster, received 32 points in the poll. Tennessee Tech held a slight edge over Belmont as East favorite, while UT Martin was the runaway favorite in the West.
“It’s something, of course, we’ll make sure our kids know about,” Pietri said Tuesday during the OVC Basketball Media Day. “We can control how other people perceive us by our actions. If our actions warrant and people have have a high level of respect for us, then that’ll happen.”
On the mend
Both JSU basketball teams have been hit by the injury bug this preseason.
Pietri’s team has three players sidelined, while men’s coach James Green has two.
On the women’s side, freshman guard Domonique Clune and sophomore guard Destiny James both have knee injuries, and sophomore guard Destany McLin has an elbow injury.
Pietri is uncertain when Clune might return. The Gamecocks expect James to be back in the middle of November and McLin to be out at least into December.
James is the only true point guard on the roster with experience. True freshman Kelly Naughton is their only other true point guard and junior Candace Morton may have to fill the role “out of necessity” for a while.
On the men’s side, the Gamecocks have lost freshman point guard Randall Smith to a knee injury and redshirt freshman Joe Kuligoski to a lower leg injury.
“Joe was playing really well. They both were,” JSU men’s coach James Green said. “They both figured into what we have going on. I think Joe will make it back. I don’t think Randall will, based on what I have heard at this point. It’s, unfortunately, part of the game.”
Looking for help
The injuries on the women’s side have reduced Pietri’s roster to eight healthy scholarship players.
He has been looking for outside help just to be able to do some 5-on-5 work, but of the five men they approached to become practice players, three didn’t meet eligibility requirements and two missed their physicals.
“I do hope to have a group of guys with us by the time we start playing opponents,” Pietri said. “I’d like to have them right now. We’re trying to get them joining us as quickly as we can.”
In the meantime, they have pressed graduate assistant Jala Harris, a former All-OVC player at Tennessee Tech, and assistant coach Ali Heller into the action.
“We’re clearly limited and doing the best we can under the circumstances,” Pietri said.
Both JSU teams will make their first public appearances Wednesday at Gamecock Madness at 7 p.m. in Pete Mathews Coliseum.
Both teams will be introduced, then break into 3-point shootouts and dunk contests.
“Any time in the South that we can do something to emphasize basketball, I think that’s a good thing,” Pietri said. “I’m excited our women’s team gets to participate in that. I hope we have a reasonable number of folks who come out and want to celebrate basketball as we head into basketball season.”
Admission is free.
The men play the first of their two exhibitions on Halloween against West Georgia. The women play their exhibition Nov. 3 against Miles.
Al Muskewitz covers Jacksonville State sports for The Star. He can be reached at 256-235-3577.