The Union University Bulldogs are entering the 2002-03 season with high expectations. The Bulldogs will look to successfully defend their TranSouth Conference regular season and tournament champions and advance to their sixth consecutive NAIA National Tournament.
Union will have six players returning that have started at one time or another for the Bulldogs. Seniors Zach Wiggs, Derrick Underwood, and Michael Katrosh, juniors Chima Abakwue and Will Harris, and sophomore Bruno Martinessi all will make major contributions to this year’s squad.
The Bulldogs will however have to replace, Robert Joseph, the NAIA Co-Player of the Year. Joseph’s 22 points, 10 boards, and seven blocks per game will be greatly missed and equally tough to replace.
Union has worked to fill the void left by Joseph in the middle as they have signed two players at the post. Mike Palmer, a 6-foot-9 sophomore, transfers in from Southern Mississippi after red-shirting his only season there. During his freshman season at Bevill State Community College, Palmer averaged 14 points and seven rebounds per game. The other post player added is 6-foot-8 Pierry Valmera. Pierry is a freshman from Haiti and spent the last few seasons as a member of the Haitian National Team where he averaged 20 points, 10 rebounds, and seven blocks per game.
At the guard position, Union adds a player with good height. Matt Trammell, a 6-foot-6 freshman from the US Military Academy Prep School, averaged 19 points, five rebounds, and four assists per game.
Union will face some top NAIA competition this season when they travel to California to battle Azusa Pacific University and Biola University. Biola finished last season as the No. 2 team in the nation and Azusa ended up No. 12 in the NAIA polls. Also on the schedule for 2002-03 is NCAA Div. I opponent UT-Martin. The Bulldogs renew this rivalry on December 5 at 7:30 p.m. at Oman Arena. Union officially begins to defend their conference title on January 16 as they host Berry College.
Starting this season, the NAIA has staggered the national tournaments for men’s and women’s basketball. In the past, both tournaments have taken place during the same week. This year, the men’s tournament will be played the week following the women’s tournament. The date for the men’s national tournament is March 26 through April 1. Consequently, the conferences have changed their conference tournaments to adjust to the difference in weeks. The men’s conference tournament will begin on March 13, one week after the women’s conference tournament.
This year’s Bulldog team has a great deal of talent and will need all parts to come together for the Bulldogs to win their second straight conference championship. Head Coach Ralph Turner and Assistant Coach David Niven will prepare this team both mentally and physically for each challenge of the new season in hopes of returning to Kansas City for the NAIA National Tournament.