The men’s basketball team finished its 2011-2012 season with a 19-6 record, the third-highest win mark in program history. With nine returning veteran players, which includes three of the top four scorers, the Eagles are prepared to build off and improve on last year’s achievements in the 2012-2013 season.

“We have a lot of guys returning, and last year, we got a lot of experience, so we definitely can translate our experience from last year to this year and help the new guys assimilate into the program,” senior forward Michael Friedberg said.

The Eagles, however, will face a big challenge in coping with the loss of graduated senior point guard Austin Claunch (B/C’12). During his four years at Emory, Claunch became the Emory all-time leader in assists, assists per game and minutes played. In his senior year, the point guard’s 180 assists were the most in school history in a single season.

This statistic, along with being voted UAA player of the week, helped earn Claunch First Team All-UAA, Second Team D3hoops.com All-South Region and Division III Player of the Year.

“Claunch is the best basketball player to ever play at Emory,” Head Coach Jason Zimmerman said. “His leadership and poise cannot ever be replaced.”

The man attempting to fill Claunch’s shoes is sophomore point guard Michael Florin. Florin played in all of last year’s games, coming off the bench as a reserve and averaged 3.4 points per game.

Along with Claunch, the team also lost four other graduated seniors. This season, the team will feature four senior players – Friedberg, forward Ollie Carleton, and guards Alex Greven and Nash Oh.

“We are the leaders of the team,” Friedberg said. “But everyone that is a veteran is expected to play a leadership role on the team.”

The Eagles will also rely heavily on junior forward Jake Davis to help make up for the lost assets. Zimmerman has noted that Friedberg, Greven and Davis are the foundation for this year’s squad. Last season, these three players accounted for three of the top four scoring options. This season, these players now have to face the challenge of accepting a new role on the team.

The team will also feature freshman forward Will Trawick and junior transfer guard McPherson Moore from Georgia Tech.

Of the players that need to step up the most for the team to make progress, Davis will be the most critical. Over the course of his first two years, Davis has continued to improve and demonstrate his capabilities. At the end of Davis’ freshman year, he was awarded the Newcomer of the League award. He was also awarded first team all-UAA and second team All-American after his sophomore season. Last year, Davis averaged 19 points per game and seven rebounds per game.

Despite these impressive statistics, Zimmerman believes Davis is not focused on his personal achievements and just wants to help his team win.

“He doesn’t care about being the best player in the league, but wants to be the best team in the league,” Zimmerman said.

The team will be coached by Zimmerman for the sixth-straight season. Zimmerman has led the Eagles to a total of 54 wins since the 2009-2010 season. Also, the team’s 8-6 record in conference play last year concluded the third-straight season under Coach Jason Zimmerman where the team boasted a conference record of over .500.

Last season featured a vast number of improvements for the team. Not only did the team finish in the upper-half of the University Athletic Association (UAA) but Emory also stood atop the d3hoops.com top 25 at numerous points along the way. The team’s best stretch earned them the number four ranking in Men’s Division III. With the many returning players along with the incoming freshman class, the team should be exciting to watch.

The Eagles open up their season today with an exhibition game at NCAA Division-I Davidson College (N.C.) at 7 p.m.

“Our goal everyday, whether it’s practice or games, is to get better, so it’s a good experience playing against a Division I team,” Friedberg said.

Their first regular season game is set for Friday, Nov. 16 against Huntingdon College (Ala.), which will be held at Birmingham-Southern College (Ala.).

By Adam Troyetsky