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Experience in Dominica should help Golden Eagles on court in 2010-11

Photo: The team upon arrival at the airport in Puerto Plata, Dominican Republic. 

COOKEVILLE, Tenn. – It is 1,591 miles from Cookeville to Santiago in the Dominican Republic. Or 2,561 kilometers. Or 1,383 nautical miles.

Any way you measure the distance, the Tennessee Tech men’s basketball team was a long way from home last week during its tour to the Dominican Republic.  Coach Mike Sutton’s team returned to campus Thursday, just in time for the start of the Fall semester on Monday. He says the experience will benefit his squad this season.

“Everybody is back safe-and-sound and healthy,” Sutton said. “It was a wonderful opportunity. We got a chance to see all our kids perform in game situations. The competition level differed from top-flight professional programs to lesser ones, but every game was a challenge. They are very enthusiastic about their basketball in the Dominican Republic.”

The trip was sponsored by G.O. Ministries, a Christian non-profit organization dedicated to the ministry of short-term missions, with the goal of preparing participants to support the efforts of Christian leaders abroad.

“We are all so grateful to the entire G.O. Ministries staff for their support and work on the tour,” Sutton said. “I think our team truly realizes how blessed they are and how much they appreciate what we have here in the United States and I am so proud of the way they represented the University, the Tech basketball program, Cookeville and themselves in the DR.”

Tech arrived on Friday and faced four games during a 30-hour span on Friday and Saturday.

“It presented a lot of challenges, but it was a great experience for our kids,” Sutton said. “We got in a lot of basketball.”

Overall, Tech went 5-2 on the trip and Sutton was able to see how well his newcomers will mesh with the returnees. The 2010-11 Golden Eagle roster will include six new faces.

“I was really pleased with how we responded,” Sutton said.

Two players who were on the squad last season but sitting out as redshirts, Zac Swansey and Chase Dunn saw their first action.

“Those are two new players who really aren’t new,” Sutton said. “It was really good to see them in game situations. Chase was really good in the nightcap of the second day. He scored about 25 points in that game.”

Sutton liked what he saw from his other newcomers. That included sophomore Matt Marseille, a transfer from Centenary, freshman Javon McKay from Dunwoody (Ga.) High School, 7-foot junior Liam McMorrow, a transfer from Marquette who has sat out the past two seasons, and freshman Dennis Ogbe from Germany.

“We got to see our two international students and I was pleased with both of them,” Sutton said. “Not only is Liam a little rusty, but this was only his 25th game of organized basketball. Dennis has a lot of experience and he was really impressive as well.”

Those six new ingredients mixed well with the returnees, according to the veteran coach.

“Jud Dillard and Terrell Barnes played well. I thought Jud may have been our best overall player on the trip. Zach Bailey picked us up and carried us in one game to help us win.

“Kevin (Murphy), Bassey (Inameti), Byron (Pickens), Alfred (Jones). Everybody got lots of opportunities to play. Mitchell (Hill), Riley (Hunley), Newt (Charles Newton). They all came in and played well,” Sutton said.

“That was one of the advantages of playing so many games in a short period of time.  We had to use lot of guys and it really gave us a great opportunity,” Sutton said.

Back on familiar ground on Tech’s campus, classes begin Monday so the Golden Eagles will get back into the schedule that’s regulated by NCAA rules, according to Sutton.

“We’re limited on the number of players we can have in the gym and in the weight room, so until we can begin practice on October 15, our guys will need to build on the experiences they had on the trip,” Sutton said. “They’ll get back with coach (Chip) Pugh and his staff and hit the weight room, and just work to build on the success they had on the tour.”