Southern’s men's basketball coach Sean Woods talks to his team as they play against Arkansas-Pine Bluff during a SWAC game Jan. 16 at the F.G. Clark Activity Center on Saturday.

The Southern men’s basketball team is looking for a cohesive start to the coming season, something that was lacking at this time last year.

That season began with Southern picked to finish second in the Southwestern Athletic Conference, but injuries and COVID protocols played a big role in what turned out to be a disappointing showing for the Jaguars. Their first two conference games were canceled by COVID restrictions, and they later lost their final two regular-season games. It led to a fifth-place finish in the SWAC at 8-6, 8-11 overall.

Coach Sean Woods said the Jaguars are off to a better start already.

“What I didn’t have last year was the summer where we create our culture,” he said. “The new guys never knew what it was like to be at Southern University. We were just meeting at games. We would quarantine two days, practice two days and then we would go play. We didn’t know each other.”

This time, the Jaguars had summer workouts, a vital part of integrating a handful of new players that Woods expects to have an impact.

The tallest is 6-foot-9 transfer J’Quan Ewing, whom Woods describes as an athletic shot blocker. Damien Sears, a 6-7 transfer, is also expected to help in the front court, where the Jaguars' top returning player is 6-7 senior Kirk Parker.

Other newcomers include a pair of guard-forward transfers from Murray State — Brion Whitley and Jason Holliday, a former Brusly High star. Perhaps the most intriguing transfer is 6-7 forward Tyrone Lyons, an athletic player who Woods said compares favorably to the “Plastic Man," former NBA star Stacey Augmon.

“I feel like this year, we’re really going fast in the transition (with new players),” said 6-1 senior Jayden Saddler, the Jaguars' top returning scorer at 11.1 points. “The brotherhood is coming back, not that it was missing last year, but last year was just different. I wouldn’t say we’re going to have a different style, but this year we’ve got that grit.”

Southern will return two fifth-year seniors in guards Brendon Brooks and Ahsante Shivers. Brooks hit 88.2% at the free throw line, and was a key contributor down the stretch last season when injuries began to pile up.

One of those injuries was to Shivers, who went down with a knee injury on Feb. 6 against Grambling. Shivers averaged 10.9 points before that, and is expected back this season prior to the start of SWAC play in January.

There are other players Southern welcomes back. Sophomore Terrell Williams, a 6-6 forward, was named last season’s SWAC freshman of the year after averaging 6.9 points and 3.5 rebounds. Guards Isaiah Rollins and Delor Johnson return after averaging 4.6 and 3.7 points respectively.

“I know a lot more (about the team) than I did last year,” Woods said. “Last year we didn’t have a chance to get together. You can’t be successful when your team is like an AAU team and you’re practicing once a week when you’re playing two or three games a week.

“The method of my madness is that we start in the summer. The good thing is we have a bunch of guys back.”

Southern will play 13 games in November and December in preparation for the SWAC. The preconference schedule features feature road trips to traditional powers Louisville and Kentucky, as well as a home contest against Southeastern.