San Antonio–Head coach Jim Zeleznak and the St. Mary’s Rattlers hope a veteran squad and a schedule that includes 15 home games will help to propel them back into the NCAA postseason this season.

The Rattlers went 16-12 in 2006-07 and advanced to the Heartland Conference Tournament semifinals. Nonetheless, Zeleznak and the Rattlers were far from satisfied with that finish and are looking for bigger and better things this season.

To that end, the Rattlers went out and recruited a big and physical class of players to take that next step. Five new players will join the Rattlers for 2007-08, including three players who are 6’6″ or taller, giving the Rattlers tremendous depth in the post area. Combined with a strong set of returnees, including All-Heartland Conference selection Marcus Hill (Sr., Longview), the Rattlers appear to have the talent and depth to compete for the Heartland crown this season.

Returnees Robert Owens (Sr., Oakwood) and Latez Williams (Sr., Hamilton, Ohio) split time at the power forward position last season and both return again this season. Owens played in all 28 games, averaging 7.8 points and 4.7 points per game.

Williams also saw action in all 28 games in his first season with the Rattlers, picking up 7.5 points and 5.0 rebounds per contest.  Williams was named Heartland Conference player of the week once, hit on 59.4 percent of his shots from the field and scored in double figures nine times.

Newcomers Nick Morey (6’6″, Jr., Belpre, Ohio) was a JUCO All-American last season at Richland College, while Ronald Tata (6’9″, Jr., Houston) and Luiz Moreira (6’11”, Jr., Brasilia, Brazil) will give the Rattlers a bigger, more physical inside presence this season.

Morey was a first team All-Metro Athletic Conference pick and was the runner-up for player of the year in the conference. He averaged 17.1 points and 11.9 rebounds per game last season and is expected to make a significant impact in his first season with the Rattlers.

Tata helped Temple College to a conference title last season and his talent in rebounding and blocking shots should bolster the Rattlers interior defense.

Moreira helped San Jacinto College to 46 wins in two years and looks to help the Rattlers to that kind of success over the next two years.

Danko Barisic (Sr., Osijek, Croatia) saw limited action last season, but brings an imposing post presence to the Rattlers at 6″11″. Combined with the additions of Tata and Moreira, the Rattlers have the size to match up with nearly anyone in Division II.

Overlooking the Rattlers returnees would be a mistake however, as St. Mary’s has three starters returning from last year’s squad. Hill stepped out of the shadows last season and earned All-Heartland Conference honors after a breakout season. He averaged 10.3 points and 4.8 rebounds per game. Twice he was named Heartland Player of the Week. He also reached double figures in scoring 12 times.

One of the players feeding the ball to Hill was point guard Dominique Richardson (Sr., San Antonio). Richardson averaged 5.4 points, 4.4 assists and 2.2 rebounds per game, despite a midseason injury that forced him to miss four games and parts of three others. In his career, Richardson is averaging 5.0 points, 4.2 assists and 2.4 rebounds.

A pair of players who saw significant action last season and expect to do so again are Allen Coleman (Sr., Corpus Christi) and Rod Bellard (Jr., Beaumont). Coleman filled in at the point when Richardson was injured and made 13 starts overall last season for the Rattlers. He averaged 5.2 points, 3.9 assists and 2.6 rebounds per game. Bellard played in all 28 games, making one start. He was second on the team in three-pointers made, averaging 6.5 points per game off the bench.

Brett Jewasko (Sr., San Antonio) and Alexander Amy (So., Universal City) both were role players last year and should see more playing time this season. Though not a true newcomer to the team, Corey Harbert (Jr., San Antonio) will join the team on the court after red-shirting in 2006-07. Harbert was an all-conference honoree at Temple College prior to coming to San Antonio.

Lorenzo Anthony (Jr., San Antonio), is a  versatile player who can play both the guard and forward spots. He earned all-conference honors at North Lake College and helped the school to a NJCAA Division III National Championship in 2006.

The Opposition
The Rattlers will not have an easy road to success as they again have one of the toughest regional schedules in the nation. They will face traditional Heartland Conference rivals including St. Edward’s University and University of the Incarnate Word, as well as regional foe Texas A&M University-Kingsville. Add to that a non-conference slate that includes Pittsburg State, Washburn, Cameron, Central Missouri, Angelo State and Midwestern State and it becomes obvious the Rattlers will have their hands full this season. Four of the Rattlers opponents advanced to the NCAA Regional Championships last year, including Central Missouri, who was a national finalist.

St. Mary’s will counter that tough schedule with 15 home games this season, including two home tournaments: the River City Classic and the St. Mary’s Thanksgiving Tournament. The River City Classic has quickly become the top Christmas Tournament in the region. This year the tournament has 10-teams, including three that advanced to the NCAA South Central Region Tournament.

In addition to St. Edward’s and Incarnate Word, as well as Lincoln University and Oklahoma Panhandle State University, the Heartland Conference has added four schools over the last two years for men’s basketball. Last season Dallas Baptist played basketball for the first time and finished fourth in the league standings, qualifying for the Heartland Conference Tournament. Newman University, Texas A&M International University and the University of Texas-Permian Basin joined the conference as provisional members in 2006-07 and games against those three will count in the conference standings this season. All three are also eligible for the Heartland Conference Tournament, which will be played on March 7-8 in Denton.

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