Damion Clemons started 20 games for Tarleton State as a sophomore last season. Now a junior, Clemons hasn't started once.
But anyone who has closely followed undefeated Tarleton (15-0) through its best start to a season in school history knows coming off the Texan bench is far from a demotion.
If anything, Clemons' role has increased. Ditto for the bench as a whole.
"I believe it's the deepest team I've coached, especially when you look at the depth in terms of quality and not just quantity," said 26th-year head coach Lonn Reisman, who has 545 wins at the school. "We've been able to use eight or nine players in the past, but not like this year. With this team, we go to the bench and I don't worry about our level of play dropping off because we have so many high-caliber players we can put out there."
Clemons included. The 6-6 junior forward from Dallas scored a career-best 16 points while grabbing six rebounds when Tarleton edged arch-rival Midwestern State 83-81 last Wednesday.
"I don't think it really matters if I'm in the starting lineup," Clemons said. "I started last year, but I think coming off the bench works better for me because I get a feel for what's going on and what I need to do when I get in there."
The Tarleton bench has outscored or tied its starting lineup in eight of 15 games this season. The starters - Tarleton has had the same lineup every game - average 46.7 points per game, the reserves 43.1. At 89.8 points total, it's the highest scoring team under Reisman and likely the highest scoring club in school history.
Clemons averages 6.5 points and 4.7 boards in 18.9 minutes per game. Solid numbers, but only fourth in scoring amongst Tarleton's reserves. Tashawn Mabry averages 11.9 points off the bench, Mohammad Lee is scoring 9.1 per game, and Emmanuel Andrews averages 7.5.
Mabry was named the LSC Offensive Player of the Week Monday after averaging 18.5 points in last week's wins over Midwestern and Cameron. He's a 6-7 forward and leads the league in 3-point shooting at 50 percent. Lee earned the same honor on Dec. 10.
"Those guys are great," Clemons said of Mabry, Lee, Andrews and even Michael Hardge, who scores 6.1 off the pine. "We go together with the second group every day, so we're pretty comfortable with each other. It's special to play with these guys."
And "troubling," as Clemons puts it, to play against them.
"I think it's troubling to play a lineup as deep as ours. When we get guys in foul trouble or someone's having a tough night, we just sub someone in and keep going strong. When other teams get in foul trouble or something goes wrong, they lose a key piece to what we're trying to do."
Clemons says the depth also helps Tarleton maximize it's practice time because that is where the competition is often the best.
"The level of competition is crazy because we're always going hard at each other and talking smack first team vs. second team," Clemons laughed. It's good for us. I feel like we go as hard at each other as anyone we play, and that's making us better every day."
Scary thing for opponents - Clemons can quickly identify areas where Tarleton can still improve, beginning with rebounding.
"We can always do things better," said Clemons. "Rebounding has been the big thing of late. We finally out-rebounded an opposing team (against Cameron Saturday) for the first time in a while. We have to go to the glass better."
The Texans are currently ranked sixth in the nation but are likely headed to fourth when the National Association of Basketball Coaches updates its Division II poll today. No. 2 Bellarmine and No. 5 Indiana University of Pennsylvania each suffered losses last week.
The next team to try and hand Tarleton its first loss will be West Texas A&M, as the Texans travel to the First United Bank Center in Canyon for Wednesday's 7:30 p.m. LSC battle. It follows a 5:30 p.m. women's contest.
"We aren't focused on the numbers or where we're ranked," Clemons said. "We just get ready for every team and every game and focus on what we need to do to win."