Men's Basketball Shows Promise
By Jonathan Bym, Editor
After cruising through its non-conference slate in November, last year’s men’s basketball hit a brick wall in Peach Belt Conference play and struggled to recover.
This year, coach Ben Miller sees promise in his team that returns nearly everyone from last season’s squad plus two talented freshmen that can make an impact and a returning wing player that has had past experience with the Braves.
“We got a lot of returners and experience coming back,” Miller said. “One of the biggest positives is the returning of our captains.
“Those guys in terms of experience as well as others have done a good job, and I think the experience on our team is exciting.”
Captains Ben Jacobs and Griffin Pittman are three-year starters for the program and started nearly every game last season for the Braves.
Other fixtures in last year’s starting lineup returning this year are juniors Quamain Rose and Brandon Winford.
Rose led the team in points and assists per game last season with 15.8 ppg and 4.5 apg.
In the frontcourt, Winford averaged 13.6 points a game and snagged nearly nine boards a game as well.
The frontcourt players behind Jacobs and Winford provide the post with a lot of depth, Miller said.
“I feel there are a lot of guys that can get minutes up front for us this year. Ben Jacobs and Brandon Winford bring a lot of experience from the past few years, and we have a variety of guys that can get minutes in the post,” he said. “Collectively we have a lot of strength there.”
Players like senior Reggie Cobia and juniors Chris Lindsay and Tyler Kordenbrock will be thrown into that mix.
Freshmen Brandon Watts and Chris Smith add depth, and length to the backcourt and Miller sees them getting minutes this year.
“The two freshmen, Chris Smith and Brandon Watts, are talented perimeter players and bring a lot to the team,” he said.
Alongside Rose and Pittman last season, Jihad Wright, Keysheen Hinton and Alex Bradley each will be key role players in the back court.
Cody Hughes, after three years away from the program, returns as a senior wing. In his last season with UNCP in 2010-2011, Hughes averaged over six points per game.
“Cody has been a great addition to the team this year coming back,” Miller said. “He is really appreciative to come back and to get a degree and play on the team.”
After the solid 9-0 start to last season in which the Braves were nationally ranked for the first time since the 1999 campaign, UNCP hit conference play and struggled over the final 20 games going 5-15.
According to Miller, his team didn’t play with the intensity on defense and rebounding as in past years, and an improvement in those areas could show in the win column this season.
“Something I felt like we didn’t do a good job of last year and we can make into strength this year is our defense and rebounding,” Miller said. “Statistically, we weren’t as good as we were in those areas in past years, and we are going to try and build on those areas.
“I’m hoping that with the start of practice our defensive energy and intensity will show.”
Last season, the Braves’ defense allowed opponents to score nearly 79 points a game and shot 46 percent from the floor.
The Braves outrebounded their opponents by three rebounds a game, the lowest since Miller’s first two seasons as coach.
In the previous three seasons before last year, UNCP averaged nearly eight rebounds a game more than their opponents.
During that span, the Braves went to the NCAA tournament twice.
“We have to become a determined team that wins games with defense and rebounding,” Miller said.
With improvements up front and a more intense defensive mindset, the goal of this year’s team is the same as every year.
“We still haven’t got to cut down some nets,” Miller said. “We set our goals really high…winning conference and going to post season play is always a goal for this team.”
Photo by Stefanie Smith. Guard Griffin Pittman goes up for a layup during moonlight madness.