by Kyle Collins, sports information student assistant
MILLEDGEVILLE, Ga. - Georgia College & State University's Centennial Center is alive with noise and commotion. A highly contested pickup game is just about to boil over. Almost the entire roster of the men's basketball team is fully entrenched, hoping their side comes out on top. Then comes the melting point.
A foul call causes fury amongst two hard-nosed players. Both have a competitive drive and spirit refusing to give in.
Almost instinctively, two others run to the scene dowsing a potential fireball. With the battle resolved, the game ends with no hard feelings.
The four guys in the middle of it all are seniors. The intensity shown on the court is part of a strong group of friends and teammates eager to show everyone their ability to lead Georgia College & State University to a Peach Belt Conference (PBC) Championship.
Head coach Terry Sellers has seen his share of great teams and senior classes come through Georgia College. Several conference championships and deep runs in the NCAA Tournament highlight a consistent winning tradition for the Bobcats.
Leadership inside and out makes a great team. Sellers said his most successful teams always have seniors ready for any issues or adversity.
"The best teams I've ever coached had great internal leadership," Sellers said. "There's probably been things happen that I never knew about because they took care of them."
With a young team, senior influence becomes vital. Trying to learn a new system straight out of high school can be overwhelming. The underclassmen hear the coaches, but they watch the seniors for applied direction.
"Most teams have one good leader, and if you have two that's a bonus. Hopefully, we'll have four this year, and I think that will make the difference in what kind of season we have," Sellers said.
Each leader brings a certain style, game and personality. Their skills complement each other making for a tight-knit group on and off the court.
These four guys come from different places and bring their own versions of work ethic and flash to the program.
Smooth All-Around Threat
Coming into his third and final season at Georgia College, Shaun Keaton (Albany, Ga.) has a more humble outlook on basketball. Spending his freshman season playing Division I ball led him to miscalculate the PBC.
"I really planned on coming in and scoring 20 to 25 points a night because I was from D-I and this was D-II," Keaton said.
After Keaton's first practice, he changed his mind. Keaton quickly blended in with the players and coaching staff.
"Shaun Keaton has always been a great follower and blended right in from the day he got here," Sellers said. "It's like he's been here for four years."
It didn't take long for teammates and opposition to see Keaton could flat-out shoot. Whether it was a long-range buzzer beater against Clayton State University his first season or the 92 three pointers made last year, this guy is trouble from anywhere on the court.
"Sometimes, Shaun gets in a zone the way he gets the ball and does whatever he wants," senior Justin Brown said.
What sets him and the other seniors apart is the unrelenting confidence in their ability. Even during losing streaks and shooting slumps, neither Keaton nor Sellers doubted the ball would find the net again.
"It comes back to you. This is what I've been doing all my life, and it's just a slump," Keaton said. "Coach Sellers stayed with me and told me to keep shooting. He told me that I'm a shooter and to keep doing what I know how to do best."
Comparing himself to the other three seniors, Keaton said he is more vocal on the court but more quiet off it. Sellers has seen a change in Keaton so far this year.
"I've noticed that he (Shaun) has stepped up and accepted a little more responsibility for leadership on the team as a senior," Sellers said.
Keaton feels he is prepared to reach his goals.
"I just want to be the best player and leader for my team I can be," Keaton said. "I want to teach the young guys how to be a winner."
As the season moves toward the PBC Tournament, Keaton has broken the 1,000 career point barrier and earned the first PBC Player of the Week trophy for GCSU since Aaron Clark in 2007. Saturday, Feb. 21, the long-distance marksman snapped the school's career three-point record, now standing at 252 threes in his three-year career.
Coach Sellers loves rebounding, defense and hustle. Logically, coach loves Ken Kemp (Dublin, Ga.).
It didn't take Kemp long to realize what it takes to get playing time at Georgia College. From the bench, he observed the 2005-06 team that made it the Sweet Sixteen.
"I took a backseat to see what they were doing and to see what coach likes," Kemp said. "Coach loves somebody that hustles, plays great defense, loves the game and leaves it all on the floor."
Clearly Kemp took good notes, as he has played in every game for the Bobcats his last two seasons. No one will outwork this guy.
Kemp's reputation comes from the bulldog attitude he carries to every game. He has to battle for rebounds against much larger opposition. Unlike some, Kemp doesn't sweat a few bruises.
"On the court, I like to think of myself as a dominant-aggressive person," Kemp said. "I like to get a lot of contact, which guys don't like."
Kemp admits he can come across as being too aggressive and going a bit overboard. Kemp jokingly mentions those practice moments where he and Keaton clash.
"I'm so passionate about it. I don't care if it's a pickup game I want to win. He's (Keaton) competitive as well, so we bump heads a lot," Kemp said.
Fellow senior Chuck Eason feels this competitive spirit is essential for practice. Eason said they battle during practice, but it gets all the underclassmen into it.
"I think our competitive spirit makes basketball fun," Eason said. "Afterwards, you might have knocked him down, but after practice you're back to being friends again."
Even with all this talk of aggression and physicality during games and practice, Kemp is a lovable jokester. To a man his three senior buddies described him as one of the most outgoing and silly guys.
"We make fun of each other all the time," Brown said. "Ken is from the country, so I call him country boy."
Kemp can identify with the eager youth on the Bobcat squad. He's been in their shoes and isn't afraid to help.
"There are guys that come to me like ‘Ken what am I doing wrong' and ‘do I need to do this'," said Kemp. "I love that about them because that means they're trying to learn. If I know what I'm doing, I want to relay that message to help somebody else."
Kemp couldn't feel more blessed to be involved in collegiate athletics. Heading into his final season, he plans on leaving his presence felt at Georgia College.
"I want my legacy to be that he was a great leader who led by example," Kemp said. "I want people to be like Ken Kemp was a great hustler who loved the game of basketball."
His legacy of hustle and heart only grows as Kemp leads the squad in total rebounds this season. The 6-foot-3 undersized forward has 452 career boards, good for 10th in program history.
Swaggerful Long-Range Playmaker
After developing at junior colleges in Florida and Kansas, Justin Brown (New Orleans) settled on Georgia College after his first meeting with coach and players.
"After I visited here, I didn't want to go anywhere else," Brown said. "I had a lot of friends who accepted me when I first came."
Brown brings a flamboyant game and personality to the Bobcats. As an off-the-bench guard his junior season, he quickly established his intentions.
"I don't care where I'm at, when I get in, how I get the ball but if I get the ball I'm gonna shoot it," Brown said.
Raised in New Orleans, Brown said he is a little different than the other seniors in the way he talks and acts. Past all the jokes, Brown speaks of the closeness between his fellow classmen.
"We like each others' personalities and get along with each other too well," Brown said. "I feel like they know everything about me, and I know everything about them."
Still good, competitive friends can go at it. Since all four seniors are guards, they battle each other whenever possible.
"When we argue and fight, it's fun for practice," added Brown. "During practice it's war. I don't care who it is it's gonna be war. We are gonna fight and push to throw each other off our games."
Taking his leadership role into account, Brown helps the freshmen discover how to get playing time.
"I tell all of them to find your niche, what coach Sellers want you to do, and do it," Brown said.
Coming into his second and final season as a Bobcat, Brown has made an impression on Sellers.
"This year, Justin Brown, had his best preseason," Sellers said. "He seems to be determined to have a good season."
Brown describes himself as a reliable shooter who refuses to back down from anything. With one more chance to leave a mark at Georgia College, Brown knows his role.
"I want to be known as the guy who kinda struggled his first year, but came out his second year and knew what he had to do and did it to the the best of his ability," Brown said.
Brown continues to cement his shooting boasts. Currently, his long range average is a shade over 37 percent. Taking advantage of his minutes, Brown remains a vital bench scoring option this season and even picked up three starts.
Growing up in New York, basketball is king. Unlike the south where football and other sports may reign, everything revolves around the game of basketball.
Queens, N.Y. gave Chuck Eason a gritty style, and an opportunity to rise above some negativity.
"Growing up where I did let me see the good and the bad of everything," Eason said. "Luckily, I've had family that kept me on the good when I easily could have steered to the bad."
After two successful junior college seasons, Eason and the Georgia College staff shared high expectations. Unfortunately, injuries hampered his game last year.
"Chuck battled some nagging injuries last year," Sellers said. "Things didn't go quite as he had planned. Chuck really showed a lot of character by never letting it affect the way he worked."
Pain is a recurring theme for Eason. Recent knee surgery and pesky arthritis have halted his preparation for the senior season. Eason has yet to reach his potential as a Bobcat, and will now be forced to contribute in the role of student assistant coach.
Eason's demeanor and personality have several sides. He can clown with Kemp and Brown, but doesn't mind mellowing out off the court.
"Ken and JB are just silly and joking all the time," Keaton said. "Chuck is more like myself, once you get off the court he's more laid back in chill mode."
Even with preparation and drive, the body can still fail. Arthritic pain forced the New Yorker to sit out his final season. Eason is a student assistant coach for the remainder of the 2008-09 campaign.
The Bobcats enter the PBC Tournament as the fourth seed, facing North Georgia in the semifinals Friday, March 6. Georgia College earned its 10th 20-win season this year, seven of which have come under the watchful eye of Sellers. The Bobcats reached as high as No. 14 in the nation this season, but a five-game stretch that featured four losses knocked them out of the top-25 for the first time in five weeks. The Bobcats capped the season with a pair of big wins this week, including the second over USC Aiken this season.
"You're gonna get knocked down, and how your team responds deals with the tone set by the seniors," Sellers said. "They are loyal to the program and want to go out on a good year, so I'm confident they'll do what's necessary to make sure the team stays on the right track."
They all know how to treat bitter loss and euphoric victory. Regardless of the results, four guys have built a bond beyond basketball.
"I wouldn't rather spend my time with anybody else but those guys. I couldn't ask for better friends or teammates right now," Eason said.
Visit www.GCSUBobcats.com to nominate your favorite former Bobcats and Colonials to the GCSU Athletics Hall of Fame. The GCSU Department of Athletics sponsors 10 varsity athletic programs at the NCAA Division II level. As a Division II program, GCSU prides itself on balancing the life of the student-athlete, evidenced by the Bobcats' multiple appearances in post-season competition as well as documented academic success and community-service involvement.