The men’s basketball team opens the program’s 28th year of intercollegiate competition this Saturday and Sunday when the Eagles play in Birmingham-Southern College’s (Ala.) Black Tie Classic. On Saturday, Emory will face Spalding University (Ky.) at 5 p.m. and take on Birmingham-Southern on Sunday at 4 p.m.

Head Coach Jason Zimmerman wants his team to go out and do what they do best.

“We want to do what we always do in the beginning of the year,” Zimmerman said. “The first game of the year is where you want to start developing your identity as a team, and we are looking forward to doing that against our opponent.”

Emory closed out the 2012-13 season with a 20-7 record, adding to the four year total of 74 wins, the winningest four-year stretch in Emory history. Emory made the NCAA tournament for the first time in 23 years, making it to the second round, but lost to Whitworth University (Wash.).

The Eagles have four first-year players on the roster, freshmen Austin DaGue (6’9”), Jim Gordon (6’5”), and Jonathan Terry (6’1”) and junior Alex Ordu (5’10”).

“We had four very outstanding young men that we had to replace. They were outstanding leaders and basketball players,” Zimmerman said. “The newcomers have done a great job competing against those upperclassmen. The hardest thing to do is to compete against a friend.”

The four newcomers have all enjoyed a fine preseason and are looking to contend for spots in the regular playing group.

“I think the upperclassmen have welcomed them with open arms,” Zimmerman said. “They have been a very much resounding force for guys who need help on the basketball court or off the court, and I think they have done a great job of mentoring these young men.”

Zimmerman believes that the key to his team’s success is hard work at practice, playing at a high pace and building a strong team dynamic.

“We want to play at a great pace in attack mode,” Zimmerman said. “We want to defend, and we want to value the ball. Those the three things we want to try to do every time we go out and we work on that the majority of our practices.”

Zimmerman welcomes back 11 letterwinners, including three starters, from last season’s squad. Sixty-two percent of the scoring returns from the 2012-13 team that ranked 16th nationally with an average of 81.4 points per game.

In addition, the Eagles welcome back 67 percent of last season’s rebounding and 73 percent of the assist totals.

Two of last year’s top three point produces return to the roster which includes senior Jake Davis who received First Team All-UAA honors for the second year after posting a team-high scoring average of 18.2 points per game.

The coaching staff will look at more players this year for production. Junior Alex Foster appeared as a reserve in all 27 games last season. Sophomores Will Trawick and Davis Rao both gained valuable experience last season and will be key components to this year’s team.

“Our team is very connected right now, but we have not had any competition and the threat of the pressure of having to play well against an opponent,” Zimmerman said.

Emory posts a 17-10 all time mark in season opening games. Last year, the Eagles triumphed 98-70 against Huntingdon College (Ala.) behind 21 points by Davis and 15 from senior McPherson Moore.

“We are looking forward to beginning a great journey and are looking forward to seeing where this journey takes us,” Zimmerman said.

– By Alexander Del Re