Oct. 24, 2001
BOWLING GREEN, Ky. - Western Kentucky University standouts Chris Marcus and Natalie Powers took top individual honors when the Sun Belt Conference released its preseason men's and women's basketball polls and All-Conference teams during the league's annual Media Day activity here today.
Marcus - a returning All-American, last year's SBC Player-of-the-Year and a candidate for National Player-of-the-Year laurels in 2002 - surprised no one when he was selected for the men's preseason honor. The 7-1 senior center out of Olympic High School in Charlotte, N.C., averaged 16.7 points and was the nation's top rebounder last season (12.1 rpg), leading the Hilltoppers to a 24-7 mark, SBC regular season and tournament championships and WKU's first berth in the NCAA Tournament since 1995. Marcus was the only unanimous selection on the men's preseason team.
Powers, a returning All-Sun Belt athlete who was sixth in the nation in scoring (first in the SBC) with her 22.3 ppg average last season, is a 5-11 senior guard from Apollo High School in Owensboro, Ky. She was ninth in the nation in three-point shooting percentage as well, making good on 44.2 percent of her shots from beyond the arc. Joining Powers as unanimous picks on the women's preseason honor squad were Jamie Thomatis of Middle Tennessee and Gergana Slavtcheva of Florida International.
Topper guard Derek Robinson, a 6-1 senior from Paris, Ky., was also named to the men's All-Sun Belt Team. He averaged 8.9 ppg last season and was one of league's top performers at the point, totaling 121 assists and ranking second (by a very narrow margin) in the conference in assists per minute played.
Coach Dennis Felton's Hilltoppers were the unanimous selection to repeat as East Division champs, earning all 11 votes from the league's coaches. Arkansas State was second in the balloting in the East while New Mexico State earned 10 of 11 votes in the West to take the favorite's role in that division.
In the women's poll, new Lady Topper Coach Shawn Campbell's charges were picked second in the East (with two first place votes - 40 points), trailing only preseason favorite Florida International (nine firsts - 53 points) and nudging out Middle Tennessee (38 points). In the West Division, defending champ Denver (six firsts - 61 points) edged out North Texas (five firsts - 59 points).
Here's a look at the poll balloting and preseason All-Sun Belt Conference Teams:
M E NEast Division 1. WKU - 55 2. Arkansas St - 41 3. Florida Int'l - 26 4. Ark-Little Rock - 25 5. Middle Tenn - 18
West Division 1. New Mexico St - 65 2. UL-Lafayette - 51 3. South Alabama - 47 4. Denver - 26 5. New Orleans - 23 6. North Texas - 19
Preseason All-SBC Team Eric Channing, NMSU Chris Davis, UNT Blane Harmon, ULL Jason Jennings, ASU Anthony Johnson, ULL Chris Marcus, WKU * # James Moore, NMSU B.J. Pratt, Denver Derek Robinson, WKU Demetrice Williams, USA
W O M E NEast Division 1. Florida Int'l - 53 2. WKU - 40 3. Middle Tenn - 38 4. Arkansas St - 22 5. Ark-Little Rock - 12
West Division 1. Denver - 61 2. North Texas - 59 3. South Alabama - 35 4. New Orleans - 31 5. New Mexico St - 25 6. UL-Lafayette - 20
Preseason All-SBC Team Lyletha Gamble, USA Melissa Garcia, NMSU Jolie McKeirnan, ASU Jalie Mitchell, UNT Natalie Powers, WKU * # Taneisha Russell, USA Gergana Slavtcheva, FIU * Rae-Anne Smith, ASU Ivana Stojkovic, NMSU Jamie Tomatis, MTSU * Nikki Weddle, Denver
# Preseason Player-of-the Year * unanimous pick(s)