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It had been 10 years since the College of Southern Maryland had experienced a winning season in men’s basketball prior to last year’s 16-12 mark, which included a notable 10-6 fifth-place finish in the loaded 18-team Maryland Junior College Conference.

The breakout campaign earned CSM frontman Alan Hoyt, a Great Mills High School graduate who is now in his sixth season, the nod as the MD JUCO Coaches Association Coach of the Year.

Incidentally, the previous winning campaign for the Hawks also saw them sport a 16-12 record during the 2001-02 season. During their nine straight years of losing seasons in between, the program was a combined 59-169.

Getting out to a 2-4 start this young season may seem on the surface like the Hawks are reverting back to their former losing ways.

But that could not be any further from the truth.

With the tip-off to the Maryland JUCO portion of their schedule slated for 7 tonight at home versus Garrett (13-15, 5-11 last year), the Hawks enter the affair with momentum. Three of their losses were by seven points or less, while their wins were all by double digits.

But most importantly through the early stretch of their schedule, the Hawks played mostly upper-echelon opponents in the country within their Division II ranks of the National Junior College Athletic Association.

They kick-started the season in Chicago at an eight-team tournament with a 1-2 record the first weekend in November against three national heavyweights, including 18th-ranked Triton (Ill.) in their season opener, which ended in an 84-81 shortcoming on Nov. 2. Four of the teams at the tournament were ranked nationally in the preseason poll.

“We have a good confidence level,” said Hawks starting guard Sedric Baker, sixth in the MD JUCO last year in scoring (17.2 points per game) while boasting the league’s fifth-best shooting percentage from beyond the arc at 39.7 percent.

The Prince George’s County product saw his standout season a year ago result in a second-team All-MD JUCO selection, the only Hawks player to earn such postseason attention.

“This year we’ve had a real hard schedule. We played like the top team in Chicago,” Baker said, “[but] we can play with anybody in the country. When we come back home [to play our MD JUCO schedule], this should be easy cake for us. Them teams out there [in Illinois] are way better than what we have down here. I think we’re better than we thought because those teams were bigger and stronger, and we still held our own out there. Speed and defense [were our specialties]. We forced a lot of turnovers, like 34 against Triton.

“Our confidence level should be up. We should be ready for [our MD JUCO opponents].”

On Nov. 3, the Hawks absorbed another close defeat to Morton (Ill.), 91-85, before they finished their Chicago experience with an 87-76 victory over Oakton (Ill.) the next day.

The Hawks returned home for their only home game thus far, dominating Germanna (Va.) in a 113-97 outcome on Nov. 6.

Last weekend, they set out for West Virginia to battle fellow Region XX contenders Potomac State and Beaver County (Pa.), losing 91-84 and 90-69 respectively. Falling to Beaver County was the only game the Hawks really did not give themselves a chance to win, though they were without a few key players who will mostly be returning in the near future with the exception being energy man Jay Nichols with a season-ending broken foot.

“There’s way more confidence this year than when I [last played with CSM in 2008-09 when we were 10-18],” said Hawks sophomore guard Troy Cummings, a McDonough High School graduate. “We had good players back when I played [with CSM] in ‘08, but I feel like this team has a lot of talent and a lot of potential. We’ve got a lot of young people but if we keep working, the sky is the limit for us.”

Hoyt added, “We’re springboarding [into this season from last year]. We have brought back a lot of guys and we added some good pieces. I feel like we’re a better team than last year. We only finished with seven or eight guys. The fact that we have 13 [players] out here at the moment, we’re in better shape for the long run.”

Like all junior college coaches, keeping the bulk of his players academically eligible by the second semester is Hoyt’s challenge in preserving his roster.

“We have two or three guys coming in with a full year [amount of credits], and they’re freshmen, basketball-wise. So that puts them in a good position already,” he noted, optimistic academic ineligibility will not ravage his roster like last year. “This is a good group. I had to suspend a few guys when midterms came out, but we put ourselves in good position with our numbers. We’re still in good shape [academically].”

The Southern Maryland contingency on this Hawks roster includes Cummings, freshman guard Delonte Moses (North Point), freshman swingman Sigourney Jackson (Thomas Stone), sophomore forward Taurean Hunter (Patuxent), sophomore forward Sheldon Thorne (Lackey), freshman forward Troy Cleveland (North Point) and freshman forward Radovan Zivkovic (St. Mary’s Ryken).

“[The Southern Maryland Athletic Conference along with Ryken of the Washington Catholic Athletic Conference] is the heart of where we recruit from,” Hoyt said. “It’s going to be the cheapest for them to go to this school. We always start [from Southern Maryland] and try to get the best we can from there. You only go so far [as a junior college] without [offering] housing. We’ve got to get guys that live close and can be back and forth.”

He added about recruiting in the steadily rising Southern Maryland high school ranks, “We’ve got to fight for [the top recruits]. It’s tough because the kids that we want can go [NCAA Division II] or D-I. We’re a better program than [just taking the kids that no other colleges want].

“We’re not just going to take anybody. We want the best players from the SMAC schools.”