The 2005-06 version of the Union University men’s basketball team has very high expectations entering this season. Union lost just two seniors from a year ago when they were TranSouth regular season co-champions, TranSouth Tournament Champions, and appeared in their seventh NAIA National Tournament in the past eight seasons. With the combinations all the returning talent, and the four new players to the roster to make this season’s team very experienced, deep, and athletic.
Union has received a great deal of attention on the conference and national level. The head coaches of the TranSouth Conference have voted Union as the unanimous choice to win the conference title this season. Union also received high marks from the national Street & Smith College Basketball Preview Magazine. In the 2005-06 yearbook, Union was named the No. 3 ranked team in the NAIA by Street & Smith. In addition to the team recognition, two Union Bulldogs were named preseason All-Americans. Corey Burkett was voted to the second team, while Pierry Valmera was voted as an honorable mentioned athlete.
This Union Bulldog team will be tested early as this year’s schedule ranks as one of the toughest ever, not only at Union, but in the national. The Bulldogs plays a home-and-home series against Mountain State University, Oklahoma City University, McKendree College, Trevecca Nazarene University, Lindsey Wilson College, Missouri Baptist University, and Cumberland University. Union also plays on the road at Houston Baptist University and LSU-Shreveport. Just those match-ups alone mark 16 games versus teams ranking in the final NAIA polls last season. In the same Street & Smith preseason poll, Mountain State was No. 2 and LSU-Shreveport was No. 10, while Cumberland, Houston Baptist, Missouri Baptist, Oklahoma City, and Trevecca Nazarene were all ranked in the top 30.
Union’s senior class this year is led by the Bulldogs leading scorer and last year’s TranSouth Newcomer of the Year Corey Burkett. As a junior, Burkett averaged 15 points and six rebounds to lead Union. Matt Trammell and Ross Ross are two players that have been bench players. Both are capable of provided instant sparks when they enter a game. Kenly Sellers transferred to Union this year from McNeese State University. He’s a big, athletic player that can score.
The junior class, the largest on this year’s team, has received a great deal of attention over the past few years, mainly because of the play from the two big men in the middle. Ben Frederick, at 6-10, and Pierry Valmera at 6-foot-8 both averaged exactly 11.9 points per game last season as sophomores. Another returning junior that has earned his attention is point guard Marcus Cooper. He improved as a three-point shooter as he upped his makes from 24 to 45 and his percentage from .353 to .429 from his freshman to his sophomore season. Chris Williams also returns for his junior season after walking on with the team as a freshman. The junior class also has two transfers joining the group. Mack Bealim from Lawson State Community College and Deywane Lee from the University of Evansville will both add a lot of options with their athletic ability.
Union’s lone sophomore Courtney Jones is coming off a very impressive freshman campaign. He’s a good three-point shooter who has improved is strength since last year and has been one of the most improved players in the off-season.
The freshman class has two players they have the potential to make big impacts over their careers. Alan North is an outstanding three-point threat from Jackson that will get the opportunity to make big shots as he did time and again at the high school level. Also joining Union is Spen Valdor who is a 6-foot-9, 265-pound center that will red-shirt this season to develop his skills.
This is one of the most talented Union teams in several years, however, with the incredibly tough schedule; this group will be tested from the start to the finish. And should the Union Bulldogs advance to their eighth national tournament in nine years in March, this team could be a real force.