When you start at the bottom, you have nowhere to go but up. That was true for the Oklahoma Baptist University Bison last basketball season, but they won't have that luxury next year.
Coach Jason Eaker didn't think the program he took over was really a cellar dweller. He respected the work of Quinn Wooldridge as OBU transitioned from NAIA to NCAA Division II.
The coach is hoping for his program to continue taking steps toward becoming a national power.
"What stops us from being a nationally ranked program?" Eaker asked rhetorically. "We have a great location, a full complement of scholarships, we play in a solid conference and this school provides a great education."
Despite having players like Brantly Thompson, Tyler Lester, Caleb Norton and Harrison Stoddart already on campus, and several transfers like Davion Turner, DiShon Lowery, Mohammed Abubakar and Antonio Wade coming in, the Bison were voted at the bottom of the Great American Conference in the preseason rankings.
"There were all of these teams with votes and then there we were," Coach Eaker said. "My phone was blowing up with teams wanting to play us. After last season, my phone isn't ringing like it was."
Starting at the bottom helped Coach Eaker keep his team's season in perspective. Midway through the conference season, OBU was in a tie for first in the GAC, but Lester hurting an ankle and Turner missing games due to eligibility issues forced the Bison to play short-handed for a stretch.
When the season was over, OBU finished third in the league, qualified for the post-season conference tournament for the first time and secured the first post-season win since the program progressed to DII.
When the season ended, Coach Eaker wasn't happy.
"At first I was ticked," he said. "But after speaking with some coaching mentors, I realized I should be proud of the strides we made,"
Sometimes that success can cause problems. Some players leave because the program has moved on without them. Other players feel like they can find a better option or better fit.
Having a player want to transfer wouldn't be shocking for Eaker. After all, he was an assistant at Liberty University when Seth Curry - Stephan Curry's little brother - set a conference record in scoring for a freshman. After that season, Curry bolted for Duke University.
So after his team completed the season, Coach Eaker told his players that if they wanted to transfer, all they had to do was talk to him.
"No one had any interest in leaving," Eaker said. "Some wondered if we didn't want them anymore."
Nothing could have been further from the truth. With 3-4 returning players who have shown the ability to be all-conference caliber players and new recruits from in state and former Division I talents who are moving in from other schools, Eaker is thrilled with where his team is right now and they are still trying to sign a couple more players who could be real difference makers for the Bison.
Beyond the players on the court, Coach Eaker is being reminded how big of an advantage it can be to have out of season time with his team.
"We are finding that continuity is working in our favor," Eaker said. "We had none last year. It was a time of transition and rebuilding. Now we have time together with our returning players and that is going to accelerate our improvement."
Coach Eaker isn't sure where this year's preseason rankings will find the Bison.
"We haven't had the consistent success that some of the other programs have," Eaker said.
No matter what, it is safe to say that you won't find the Bison at the bottom of this year's poll.