OVC opponents well aware immediate impact Belmont likely to make

Tuesday, October 23, 2012 at 11:35pm

Steve Prohm doesn’t need to be briefed about new Ohio Valley Conference member Belmont.

Prohm, in his second year as Murray State’s men’s basketball coach, is well aware of the Bruins’ history and the threat they pose after having reached the NCAA Tournament five of the last seven years.

Besides, part of Murray State’s past and a piece Prohm hoped would be part of the present play important roles at Belmont.

Tyler Holloway flourished under the guidance of Prohm, then an assistant at Murray, scoring more than 1,000 points from 2005-09. After two years as a graduate assistant at Belmont, he now serves as the Bruins’ director of basketball operations.

The one that got away was Belmont senior point guard Kerron Johnson. Prohm chased after Johnson, who led the Bruins in scoring last year, as he churned out a career that ended with the honor of being named Alabama’s Mr. Basketball.

“I was recruiting him as hard I could,” Prohm said. “Belmont did a better job and they had gotten in there earlier. Kerron committed there and we ended up with [2011-12 OVC Player of the Year] Isaiah Canaan. So it all works out.”

Belmont and coach Rick Byrd were received with open arms on Tuesday at OVC Media Day at the Embassy Suites in Franklin.

The Bruins provide another hurdle for what was already a formidable league. The OVC is one of only nine conferences that has won a NCAA Tournament game the last four years.

“Them coming to our league is a very positive thing,” Prohm said. “It makes our league a lot more competitive. It helps our RPI. But it is a team hopefully we have a lot of battles with them, playing for conference championships.”

In fact, the league’s coaches and sports information directors believe the Racers and Bruins stand above the rest. Murray State, the defending regular-season and tournament champ, was tabbed to win the newly created West Division. Belmont, which captured the last two Atlantic Sun Conference championships outright, received 21 first-place votes and was projected to capture the East Division title.

“I’m not a fan of preseason polls. I just never have been, no matter where we were picked,” Byrd said. “If I were Tennessee State I’d be disappointed because they proved a lot last year. They were one of only two teams to beat Murray State at all and then almost beat them in the [OVC] championship game. Now somebody comes in that has never won an OVC game and all of a sudden they’re picked.

“You just look at the history of preseason polls. They are wrong and they’re very wrong.”

TSU was picked to finish second in the East division, receiving three first-place votes.

The Tigers finished second in the OVC last year, reached the league title game and played in a postseason tournament for the first time since 1994. Though coach John Cooper left for Miami-Ohio, assistant Travis Williams takes over with a stacked cupboard highlighted by preseason All-OVC selections Robert Covington and Patrick Miller.

For a program, which prior to last year, hadn’t compiled a winning season in 16 years, Williams doesn’t see a projected second-place finish as a snub. He sees growth.

“Belmont is very dangerous,” Williams said. “Our league was already very strong without them this year. Bringing a team of that caliber in here, any given night you’ve got to be ready to play. We’re not going take any team for granted. That’s just the level of where the OVC is going.”

Belmont administrators, coaches, athletes, students and fans are happy to be along for the ride.

With four other schools from Tennessee — including two in the East Division — the Curb Events Center expects to see livelier and more engaged crowds.

“Our fans are really excited about being in the OVC,” Byrd said. “That’s all they talked about in the summer. They thought it was a great move. I’ve hardly had anybody suggest it wasn’t a smart move. The only people that would suggest it anyway was, ‘Hey, you’ve been in the [NCAA] Tournament five of the last seven years. Why do you want to mess that up?’ So I get that thought. But it was the best move for the school by far.”