Coming off a dismal four-win season, the Saint Leo men's basketball team is hovering around the .500 mark.
Even more encouraging for coach Mike Madagan is a 2-0 start in the Sunshine State Conference. The Lions had one conference win last season.
"It's early, but I'm happy," said Madagan, who entered his fourth season at Saint Leo with a 19-64 record. "It's two out of 18 (conference games)."
The Lions, 6-7 overall, are coming off a 1-1 week. They defeated conference rival Nova Southeastern 83-61 Tuesday before Saturday's 96-75 nonconference loss at Florida Gulf Coast.
Saint Leo tries for its third straight conference win Wednesday in a 7:30 p.m. home game against Eckerd. A win, Madagan said, "puts us in position where we want to be."
That would be going from conference doormat to contender.
"We want to win the league," Madagan said. "That's our goal."
Signs for a turnaround came late last season when the Lions averaged more than 75 points in their final seven games, all of which came against conference foes. Keys to the turnaround, Madagan said, were "increasing the tempo and increasing possessions. We've had different people lead us as well."
Marquis McCullough, a former King High standout who redshirted last season, is Saint Leo's scoring leader with a 21.3 average. But depth also has been a factor with Larry Henderson (16.4 points per game) and Scott Seifert (16.0) also contributing offensively.
In the Nova Southeastern game, five Lions scored in double figures with J.J. Turner's 3-point shot giving them their largest lead at 73-49. Turner finished with 10 points. McCullough finished with a game-high 20. Seifert and Narada Caldwell each had 13 and Henderson added 12.
Turner, a guard who last season made the All-SSC freshman team and averaged more than 10 points, has struggled early and ranks seventh in scoring at 5.5. But Turner followed Tuesday's effort with 12 points against Florida Gulf Coast.
"Turner's not as consistent as he was last year," Madagan said, adding, "He's really come around after the (winter) break. He's on his way."
ON THE FLIP SIDE: The Pasco-Hernando Community College men's basketball team began its Suncoast Conference slate on the other side of the spectrum.
The Conquistadors dropped to 9-10 overall, 0-2 in the conference after two losses last week. PHCC lost 68-61 at St. Petersburg College on Wednesday, then dropped its home conference opener Saturday, 108-79 against Manatee.
PHCC plays at Florida College in Temple Terrace tonight at 7 in a nonconference game.
EIGHT IS ENOUGH: The Saint Leo women's basketball team will try to snap an eight-game losing skid at home Wednesday in a 5:30 p.m. game against Eckerd.
In their lone game last week, the Lions (1-11, 0-2) played close but lost 69-68 against Nova Southeastern.
Three Saint Leo players scored in double figures. Marina Arkhipova had a team-high 14 points, Danielle Hoeffnerscored 13 and Amanda Hollowsay 10. Rosetta Little, who had Saint Leo's last basket, finished with nine points and 12 rebounds.
AWARD: Former Florida State volleyball coach Dr. B. Cecile Reynaud will be the 12th recipient of the Saint Leo Women in Sports Achievement Award.
She coached the Seminoles to a 635-325-1 record and six conference championships from 1976-2001. Reynaud, who also has coached national and Olympic teams, is a television analyst.
Reynaud will be honored at a sports banquet Feb. 3 at Lake Jovita Golf & Country Club. For information about the banquet, call (352) 588-8221.