Division 1 Independents Preview
by Stephen Murphy
While you have been zealously in suspense for the Season Preview for Division 1 Independents, we were able to conjure up some vital knowledge on this up coming season. Notice I am careful with using the term conference, since these teams don’t reap the benefits of playing in one. That is why these conglomerate of teams (most are post season ineligible) change every so often. Last Year Gardner Webb played their last season as an Independent, they are now of Atlantic Sun Pedigree. These are teams that are comprised of players in some cases 2 inches away from having the likes of Dick Vitale, or John Saunders lecture on them. Of these seven teams, most of them are revamped and ready to battle, while a few are still finding the adjustment to Division 1 overwhelming. The level of play has upgraded, with veterans returning to lead their teams. Parity is a rarity normally in this world, but in 2002-03, March may come before judgment. Let’s take you through the upcoming season
Let’s clarify this right away; Andrew Wisniewski will be the 2002-03 Independent Player of the year. The Gents want Drew to take his game to an even higher level if that is feasible. Opponent box scores will be a ski report the next day on Mount Wisniewski. He led the team scoring in 80 percent of the games last season. He will beat you off the dribble, shoot with any extremity in close proximity, and distribute more basketballs than Sports Authority. Wisniewski improved his stamina in the off-season and is ready to lead the Gents to a breakthrough season just as long as teammates can keep up.
Demario Hooper is a guard/forward who has enhanced his game to be an additional Gent threat. Chad Maclies, a 6’6″ forward, needs to upgrade his offensive game to go along with his superb rebounding skills. Shawn Davis, a JuCo transfer who will help Maclies on the boards, is the banger that the Gents needed last season. Davis Stands 6’7″ and weighs in at 240. Michael Gale returns to the starting lineup, and Aaron Mosely, a JuCo transfer out of Connors State College can play either the 2 or the 3. Ricky Evans also adds to the abundance of depth for the Gents.
Most Coaches feel Centenary is the best team on your computer screen (or on paper). If they control the boards the opportunity will be there to win games. That is what happens when the best player is on your team. That is why Centenary hopes the other addition in center Paul Buettner will be a nice compliment and complete the missing pieces of the rebounding/low post puzzle. It is well known in Shreveport that Coach Kevin Johnson is a disciplinarian who commands leadership and execution. This has helped Centenary earn its acceptance into the Mid-Continent Conference where they will commence in the 2002-03 season. The conference move is a good fit athletically and philosophically for Centenary. The Gents will prepare themselves by playing a tough schedule against opponents such as Nebraska, LSU, and Missouri. The Gents also play eight games against Independent teams in 2002-03. Centenary should tally close to 20 victories.
Welcome to Birmingham, where the Big South Conference better keep a watchful eye on Duane Reboul’s squad. They were 6-6 against Big South opponents last season. The Panthers are still postseason ineligible, and do not count officially in the Big South standings until next season. Tenacity is this team’s entity, and the potential of this team is far-reaching. Jakob Sigurdarson, an Icelandic native and Independent Co-Freshman of the year, is as versatile a player you can find. The 6’4″ guard can run the point and play small forward. But he is best suited at shooting guard where he can score in bunches, and ignite a Panther flurry. Sigurdarson is a great combo guard who should take pressure off newcomer transfer Derrick Williams. Williams, likely to start at point guard, has the potential to be newcomer of the year for Division 1 Independents. His early progression has got BSC off to a fast start in practice.
Corey Watkins, who received a fifth year medical red shirt, is the toughest member of this aggressive Panther squad. There is no question Watkins is the leader of this team. At 6’3″, 205 he is a strong, solid defender, and an exceptional rebounder. Watkins can also create havoc with his ability to pass out of the post, and possesses all the intangibles the Panthers need out of the 3 spot. The diamond in the rough is Josiah James. James is the power forward, an intense rebounder, who is a junior college transfer from Bacone College in Oklahoma. Coach Reboul’s staff is surprised by the progression the 6’7″ forward has made. James will have an immediate impact in independent play, and will also compliment center Mike Bilostinnyi. Mike should start at center with Shema Mbyirukira coming off the bench, providing more athleticism. There is no question Bilostinnyi needs to push his weight around in the post, pulling in boards, getting the ball it the hands of Panther guards. The Panthers have a 4-out, 1-in offense; they work off screens and work the perimeter getting inside-out action. We mentioned in our recap of the trouble they had with athletic post players last year. What Shema lacks in strength, he makes up for by running the floor so well for his size. He should provide the spark they need. With their substantial amount of depth the Panthers should prove their worth to the Big South Conference.
David Lipscomb Bisons
The injury bug has had an early effect on the Bisons, but so far there is nothing major to note. Scott Sanderson, fresh off his contract extension, is preparing his team the best he can in the early season. Craig Schoen, the outstanding recruit from South Central High in Elizabeth, Indiana, seems to have an early edge at the point guard spot, with James Poindexter (also a freshman) trailing close behind. Schoen is a true point guard who sees the floor well, a good passer, and has a great basketball IQ for a true freshman. A lot of those passes will be to sophomore Jeff Dancy, who is the best athlete on the Bison Squad. Dancy is a threat at the 3-point line, and a strong driver to the hole. Ryan Roller is ready to jump into action at any time and can be a combo guard for Coach Sanderson’s squad.
The best defender is Jason Jackson, and has been since his freshman year. The senior leader and small forward will guard the opponent’s best player and look to shut him down. Jackson can push the ball strong to the hole, and is also a threat from the outside. Matt Jarboe will start at the power forward spot where he shot 48 percent from the arc. Matt can also score inside with his back to the basket, he is a good screener, and will get a lot of open shots. 6’10” Jr. center Albert Hacker is the most improved on the Bison squad. Hacker really took part in off-season conditioning, and beefed up in the weight room. Hacker needs to be a double-double threat for Lipscomb.
The bench is adequate this season with freshman Cameron Robinson. This 6’7″ will grab boards, and be a slasher on offense. The Bisons also have Charlie Jenney, a 220-pound freshman center that can give Hacker some relief off the bench. A tough schedule awaits this year with Kansas State and Pepperdine on the road before Christmas, then at Nebraska. Youth is a big concern with ten freshman and sophomores who need to adjust to the learning curve. They will find out early what it takes to play at this level.
Indiana Purdue – Ft. Wayne Mastodons
A 7-21 season forces you to address the team’s concerns. We told you the Mastodons were outmatched in the post last season. We told you Cliff Levingston, the former NBA’er was hired as an assistant to help out with the plethora of talent coming in. This year the Mastodons have more weapons than the Indiana National Guard, and almost all are battling for starting roster spots. Let the battles begin.
Deangelo Woodall is a senior captain who has a slight grip for the starting point guard post. Terry Collins, a 6’0″ sophomore, is a very effective shooter who averaged 13.5 ppg last year and expects to up his average. Collins is challenged vertically, but can shoot it from the snack stand. Brad Noll, son of Coach Doug Noll is a good combo guard and will come in and play the 1 or 2 spots. Brad is second all time in 3’s at Ft Wayne, and like Collins he is also vertically challenged at 6-0. Jeremy King was Ft. Wayne’s second leading scorer last year. A very athletic 6-6 small forward, King has to show consistency. If the attitude and effort is there for King this year, then the Mastodons are going to be off to the races.
The Mastodons are deep, and can match up with all their opponents this year. Ric Wyand is a Larry Bird-type player who can catch and shoot and has a great feel for the game. Coach Noll has the option of having Wyand and King in the game, or can go for the bigger lineup and put Jim Kessenich at the power forward position. Kessenich stands 6’10”, and can play center, but is better suited at the 4 than the 5. He can play the post, but can kill opponents at the three-point line. Kessenich broke his foot early last year, and is fully healed and ready to score. Kyle Thrasher should start at center. Thrasher is 6’8″ and an aggressive 225 center. They also have Dave Simon, who is a sophomore transfer. The former volleyball player has the potential to be the best post player this year for the Mastodons.
True freshman Quentin Carouthers is progressing. This 6’4″ guard was one of the top players to come out of Flint, Michigan. Carouthers is quick, athletic and like a lot of other players can cause chaos for opponents trying to adjust to Mastodon substitutions. They will cause match-up difficulties in almost any situation. The Mastodons will stretch opponent defenses with Kessenich out at the three, and take advantage of the athletic post skills of Thrasher, and Simon. Look for the Mastodon’s to get plenty of second-chance opportunities on the boards this season
Texas A&M Corpus Christi Islanders
900 and running! Those are the minutes all independent guard Brian Evans logged last year. Evans will be depended upon to shoulder the load in 2002-03. Brian was a true point guard as a freshman who developed a knack for scoring last year. Quick off the dribble, Evans uses his speed, penetrating the lane, and if he can’t get a good look he gets the ball to Travis Bailey, a top 3-point threat. Bailey certainly can drain ’em. A great catch-and-shoot 2-guard. Bailey is the most athletic Islander for his size. Look for the ball in Bailey’s hands late in the game. He doesn’t miss from the free throw line.
The bad news for Islander opponents is that Bailey has a brother, and with Coach Ronnie Arrow’s style of play that makes it even worse. Push the ball up the floor; look for Evans to score, a quick steal, out to Bailey for three more. Thomas Bailey is a small forward who can play shooting guard. Tracy Mcgrady-like in his size for his position, George Gervin-like with his finger-roll style. Thomas has yet to reach his potential, but is not a physical presence. Derrick Murphy is a contrast to Bailey. Murphy is more the blue-collar physical type. The 6’7″ junior power forward, who has a knack for getting the ball, puts up the most consistent effort for the Islanders. Coach Arrow would like Derrick to come close to averaging a double-double this year. Last season Murph had the most points against the big name schools.
The center position is still up in the air with Corey Lampkin and transfer Kyle Edwards battling it out. Lampkin is undersized but has a linebacker build. His style of play is reminiscent to Charles Barkley. He dominates on the boards, but has little moves in his repertoire. The Islanders will tell you they let too many games get away last year. Eight teams shot fifty percent or better in the second half against A&M. This year the Islanders have to play to their potential. Evans will get his points and assists but they need consistency out of the rest of their lineup. Coach Arrow’s up-tempo style can be relentless, as he is incessant with pushing the basketball. Defensively Arrow picks his spots to pressure. The Islanders need to convert turnovers into transition points and look to wear out opponents this season.
Texas Pan-American Broncs
UTPA waives goodbye to the Independent player of the year, as well as waving goodbye to the Independent defensive player of the year. They only used one hand and did so in one motion. Farewell, Mire Chatman, who was the recipient of both awards, ranking third in Division 1 in scoring (26.1 PPG) and steals (3.6 Per game). With all these achievements out the door it would seem unfeasible to think that guard play will be the strength of the team this year. Not according to Coach Bob Hoffman.
The Bronc staff has high expectations for Kevin Mitchell and James Davis. UTPA is coming off a 20-10 season, their most wins since the 1989-1990 season. They had their best three seasons in a row since 1987-88, and 12 home victories, most since 1993-94. Kevin Mitchell enters his senior season ready to lead the Bronc battles. Mitchell, a 2nd team All-Independent guard, started every game except one. Mitchell led the Broncs in assists, free throw percentage, ranked fourth in scoring, second in steals, three-point field goals made and three-point shooting percentage. He is UTPA’s only returning starter. Kevin is the leader Coach Hoffman wants down the stretch this season.
The Broncs have four junior college transfers in forwards Allen Holcomb, Delvis Diaz, Matt Berry, and Chris Fagan. This year, the Broncs hope to utilize their strength in the backcourt to elevate the play of their team and make the 2002-2003 season another successful one. James Davis is back for his senior season, and the 5’10” senior is a lightning-quick guard who can step up the defensive pressure. Juniors Chris Fagan and Prince Thompson will also be in the mix. Fagan is a physical forward, who can post up, and can beat opponents off the dribble with his quick step. Prince Thompson, also a possibility to start at the small forward position, can be a silent threat.
Five returning players will help provide depth. Senior Gabe Cortez, sophomore twins Roy and Rodger Rodriguez, freshman Freddy Armenta and sophomore Matt Hall will contribute. Senior Andrius Sakalys was the Broncs third-leading scorer last year, while ranking as one of UTPA’s top shooters. Andrius can stretch defenses out with his ability to shoot, and gets to the basket with quickness utilizing a great shot fake. Depth seems to be prevalent through in the 1-3 spot. UTPA needs a presence down low to take pressure off the veteran guards. Derrick East, a redshirt freshman, and Delvis Diaz a junior transfer hope to establish that presence. Offense should be there this season. The Broncs can’t take too long to adjust to their losses.
Morris Brown Wolverines
Last Season the Wolves were outmatched in every facet of the game. The Wolverines aren’t making excuses – in fact they never have. They return four starters and six lettermen in all, and will improve on a 5-24 mark from their previous year. Anthony Adams, a 5th-year senior, returns from a lower leg fracture. Last year Adams hit 64 3-pointers, and averaged 14.2 points through 12 games. Akiem Claborn returns after tearing his ACL in the first game against Clemson. Claborn is the Wolverines biggest inside threat.
Amien Hicks returns for his senior year to help the 3rd year sophomore (Claborn) in the frontcourt. Hicks (to his teammates is better known as Spree) grabbed 10.2 boards last year, and averaged 6.8 PPG. Injuries gave players opportunities last year and Larry Washington took advantage increasing his minutes while scoring 21, 17, and 15 against Jacksonville State, Ole Miss, and Marquette. Washington returns for his senior year to complete the backcourt. Jeff Singleton, a 6’8″ center, and the addition of Ed Benton, a 6’6″ forward from Abraham Baldwin CC, will provide offense down low, an option that wasn’t available last season. With added talent and size, and the work ethic Coach Derrick Thompson continues to ingrain on his Tiger Team, results will soon come.
Savannah State Tigers
Coach Edward Daniels is not expected to turn this Tiger program into prominence this season, his shoes would not be voluntarily worn. Daniels is a former protégé of now Texas Tech coach Bob Knight. Daniels played for Knight’s (did I just refer to him by last name?) Indiana teams for two years in 1969-71. The Tigers return two starters from the 2001-02 squad that went 2-26 in center Brian Fisher, and guard Carlos Smalls. Brian Fisher is the most experienced player on the roster. The 6’9″ senior center from Columbus, Georgia averaged 4.8 points and 4.4 rebounds a game last season. He also blocked 21 shots. The other top returnee is sophomore guard Carlos Smalls. The Savannah native averaged 7.4 points, had 49 assists and 31 steals last year. Newcomers include Raphael Sharper, Mike Mitchell and Jamal Daniels. The Tigers, they inherit a schedule that consists of Florida State, Miami (FL), Alabama A&M, Iowa State, Tulane and Georgia Southern, in six of their first 8 games. Improving on a 2-26 mark is the immediate concern as SSU tries to establish a new game plan. Coach Daniels will implement a new style of basketball not to be reminiscent of former coach Jack Grant’s era. Don’t look for the Tigers to improve drastically on their miserable season of 2001-02. They are still bereft of talent in comparison to the schools above. Coach Daniels will win more than two games, and hopefully initiate a process of moving SSU in the direction they seemed to be unaware of last year.
Adjusting to Division 1 is not easy for any team. Once the transition is made you have to clear your provisional status to be eligible for post-season play. This is a mandatory 4-year provision amended by the NCAA. While in the interim, look for a conference that will accept your program. For this to transpire they have to match up school budgets, and fiscal obligations. Once you become a full time member, you are then restricted from an automatic bid to the big dance for two additional years. With all this intellect let us make our predictions for post-season awards:
Player of the Year: Andrew Wisniewski, Centenary
Defensive Player of the Year: Jason Jackson, Lipscomb
Coach of the Year: Kevin Johnson, Centenary
Co-Freshmen of the Year: Craig Schoen (Lipscomb) and Quentin Carouthers, IPFW
All-Independent First Team:
G-Andrew Wisniewski, Centenary
G-Brian Evans, Texas A&M-Corpus Christi
F-Corey Watkins, Birmingham Southern
F-Jason Jackson, Texas A&M-Corpus Christi
C-Albert Hacker, Lipscomb
All-Independent Second Team:
G-Kevin Mitchell, Texas-Pan American
G-Terry Collins, Lipscomb
F-Jakob Sigurdarson, BSC
F-Amien Hicks (Spree), Morris Brown
G-Paul Buettner, Centenary
U-Thomas Bailey, Texas A&M-Corpus Christi