VALDOSTA -- The more things change, the more they stay the same.

Just like any other Wednesday night this semester, Jim Yarbrough was headed to teach a class when he got the call.

He learned from the caller that the expectations surrounding his higher-paying first job had just grown.

Valdosta State's men's basketball team was picked by the league coaches not only to win its second-straight East Division title, but to win the GSC post-season tournament next March in Tupelo, Miss.

"That's quite an honor," said Yarbrough, the Blazers' third-year head coach. Last year the Blazers went 24-8, winning the East title and making the Gulf South championship game and the South Region final.

The Blazers got three of the seven first-place votes from other East Division coaches, besting rival West Georgia 44-42 for the preseason honor.

West Florida was third (37 points), followed by Alabama-Huntsville (32), North Alabama (25), West Alabama (18), Lincoln Memorial (14) and Montevallo (12).

VSU also got four of the 17 GSC coaches' votes to win the Gulf South tournament. West favorite Henderson State, Delta State and West Georgia each got three votes.

Valdosta State beat Delta State at the GSC tournament and Henderson State in the South Regional. The Blazers lost to West Georgia in the Gulf South final and the regional final.

"This shows a measure of respect we've received," Yarbrough said. "Now we have to respond accordingly, because we can't sneak up on anybody anymore."

The Blazers have just under a month before the opener Nov. 22 (vs. Puerto Rico de Cayey at The Complex). Yarbrough says the team still has plenty of work to do to live up to these expectations.

"I don't think the other coaches take into consideration that Jeremy Brooks (broken foot) will be out until December or Tony Baker (sprained knee) has been out a month," Yarbrough said. "Or that we lost three good seniors in Marcus Williams, Nick Gast and Matt Jones.

"We'll just have to rise to the occasion."

Senior forward John Prise, who Yarbrough met in a basketball class like the one he was to teach Wednesday night, was a first-team all-conference selection.

Prise, a 6-foot-3 forward, is the team's leading returning scorer who averaged 10.3 points and 7.5 rebounds last season.

Sophomore guard Jerrod Jones and freshman center Jon Rogers were listed as newcomers to watch. Jones, who played his senior season at Valdosta High and played last year at Southeastern Community College in Illinois, is a candidate to start at point guard. Rogers, who played at Lowndes High last season, is one of three new post players set to replace Gast, now a VSU graduate assistant, and Jones.

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