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Sun Belt 2002-03 Season Recap

July 2, 2003 Conference Notes No Comments

Sun Belt Conference 2002-03 Season Recap

by Andria Wenzel

The Sun Belt Conference was once again championed by Western Kentucky. Who would have thought that without the towering presence of Chris Marcus, the Hilltoppers would still manage to find their way in to the NCAA tourney. WKU’s success has sent head coach Dennis Felton to Georgia, but that wasn’t the only change in the SBC – Poter Moser left UALR for Illinois State.

The season was highlighted by Louisiana-Lafayette’s surprising record of 20-10 and trip to the NIT, but even more surprising was the West Division champs quarterfinal loss to Denver in the SBC tournament.

Middle Tennessee’s Kermit Davis earned Coach of the Year honors after turning the Blue Raiders from the bottom of the pile three years ago, to just one win short of a NCAA tournament spot.

Player of the Year James Moore revitalized New Mexico State, despite losing to WKU in the semifinals. Next year, along with the emergence of guard Jason Fontenet, NMS may be able to get past the Hilltoppers.

And the conference was forced to bid farewell to two of its stars from past seasons. First Team All-Conference selections Hector Romero, of the University of New Orleans, and North Texas guard Chris Davis will be the most obvious losses next season.

First Team All-Sun Belt
Chris Davis: senior guard, North Texas
Brad Boyd: junior guard, Louisiana Lafayette
Tommy Gunn: junior guard, Middle Tennessee
James Moore: junior forward, New Mexico State
Hector Romero: senior forward, New Orleans

Western Kentucky (24-9, 12-2)

Key Players Leaving:
Forward David Boyden, 12.4 ppg, 5.3 rpg
Guard Filip Videnov, 9.6 ppg, rpg 4.8
Forward Nate Williams, 10.1 ppg, 5.2 rpg
Center Chris Marcus, only played in four games

Key Players Staying:
Junior guard Patrick Sparks, 13.3ppg, 5.91 apg (No.1 SB), 73 steals (No. 2 in SB)
Senior guard Mike Wells, 10.8 ppg, 47 blocks (No. 3 in SB)
Sophomore guard Anthony Winchester, 5.9 ppg
Freshman forward Jamaal Brown, 5.3 ppg

Notes: After leading his team to three-straight postseason appearances, Dennis Felton was on college basketball’s most wanted list. He resigned from the Hilltoppers to help rebuild the University of Georgia, a program that has been submerged in controversy due to possible NCAA violations.

This season after getting through the SBC tournament unscathed, the Hilltoppers exited the first round of the NCAA tournament in the Western Regional, 65-60, to Illinois. Felton’s record (100-54 overall, 54-20 in the SB) and his NCAA 39-game homecourt winning streak proved to the Bulldogs that he was ready to take the next step.

Felton has been replaced by another overachiever. After helping take Marquette to the school’s first NCAA Final Four in 26 years, WKU alum Darrin Horn, has left his assistant coaching position with Marquette and will head back to Western Kentucky, after graduating in 1995. Horn was named WKU’s Athlete of the Year following his senior season after the Hilltoppers won a NCAA first-round game over Michigan and finished with the second best record in the country (27-4), behind NCAA champs UCLA. Horn averaged 12.9 points, 3.6 rebounds and 2.8 assists.

Louisiana Lafayette (20-10, 12-3)

Key Players Leaving
Guard Kenneth Lawrence, 6.1 ppg, 4.38 apg (No. 3 in SB)
Guard/Forward Anthony Johnson, 14.4 ppg, 5.3rpg
Guard Immanuel Washington, 2.6 ppg

Key Players Returning
Senior guard Brad Boyd, 16.8 ppg, 2.9 apg
Senior guard Laurie Bridges, 11.9 ppg, 4.8 rpg
Junior forward Michael Southall, 12.9 ppg, 7.5 rpg, 68 blocks (No. 1 in SB)
Junior forward Cedric Williams, 8.0 ppg, 4.0 rpg
Sophomore forward Chris Cameron, 5.3 ppg

Notes: Coach Jessie Evans could easily make a third-straight NIT postseason appearance next season with three of his top four scorers returning to the floor. The Cajuns lost unexpectedly in the first round of the SBC tourney to the University of Denver, but the team’s remarkable record got them into the NIT. UAB’s Eric Bush’s jump shot with only 11 seconds left in the game doused the hopes for the Cajuns of moving on to the second round.

Along with seniors starting in the backcourt and juniors starting in the frontcourt, the Cajuns will be tested early on in the 2003 preseason NIT. The Cajuns will meet up with Georgia Tech for the first time in school history on November 18 in the first round of the tournament. The Cajuns haven’t appeared in the preseason NIT since the 1994-95 season.

Middle Tennessee (16-14, 9-5)

Key Players Leaving
Forward William Pippen, 15.9 ppg, 4.1 rpg
Guard John Humphrey, 9.0 ppg, 4.8 rpg
Guard Eric Parham, 5.7 ppg

Key Players Returning
Senior guard Tommy Gunn, 15.9ppg, 4.1 rpg
Senior forward Napoleon Rhodes, 6.4ppg, 5.1 rpg
Senior guard Marcus Robinson
Senior guard Keith Connor

Notes: No coach deserved coach of the year honors more than Kermit Davis. Two years ago the Blue Raiders posted only one solitary win in the Sun Belt, but this year behind the solid play of junior guard Tommy Gunn and Davis’ determination, MTSU made it to the conference’s championship for the first time in the program’s history, after being predicted to finish eighth at the beginning of the season.

Middle Tennessee was boasting a record of only 4-8 when the Blue Raiders upset Western Kentucky 69-65 in their Sun Belt opener. The Blue Raiders bullied through the field in the SB tourney before falling victim to WKU, 64-52, in the championship game. MTSU was led by guard Tommy Gunn’s breakout season. The junior upped his average from previous years to a respectable 15.9 points per game (sixth in the conference) and has provoked MVP for next season.

To an already deep cast of players; Napoleon Rhodes, Marcus Robinson and Keith Connor, Davis and his staff have possibly the best recruiting class for next season. Joining the Blue Raiders will be Alex Weekes out of Georgia who was ranked 54th in the nation by Hoopscoop. Weekes fellow incoming classmates include, 6-foot-6 forward Keith Christmas of Indiana and 5-foot-11 guard Bryan Smithson. They are a part of Davis’ new attitude of focusing on developing players out of high school who will be available for four seasons.

New Mexico State (20-9, 9-6)

Key Players Leaving
Guard Brandon Mason, 12.0 ppg, 101 assists
Center Chris Jackson, 10.0 ppg, 10.0 rpg (No. 1 in SB)
Guard Will Morris, 4.2 ppg
Forward Lamar Hill, 2.9 ppg

Key Returning Players
Senior forward James Moore, 18.8 ppg (No. 2 in SB), 6.5rpg, 47 blocks (No. 2 in SB)
Junior guard Jason Fontenet, 12.3ppg, 113 assists
Junior guard Allen Haynes, 7.0ppg

The Aggies may have been ousted from the SBC tourney a bit sooner than expected, losing 78-59 to WKU in the semifinals, but they still hold the sole rights to the SBC Player of the Year. James Moore returned mid-season to give NMS a huge lift and guide the team to a 20-9 record. Moore finished the season with several accolades including an AP Honorable Mention and he was named to the National Association of Basketball Coaches All-District 15 second team.

Moore will be losing frontcourt mate Chris Jackson to graduation, but the Aggies worked tediously to recruit two new post players who could compliment Moore as well as Jackson did. First suiting up will be Andre Scott, who played his freshman year at the University of Rhode Island before transferring to Schoolcraft College in Michigan. The 6-foot-9, 240-pound forward/center averaged 10.0 ppg and 7.0 rpg leading his team to the National Junior College Tournament and a 35-3 record. Scott and Moore will be joined by Jeff Jones, a 6-foot-8 forward, who averaged 10.0 ppg and 10.0 rpg at San Jose City College.

With guard Brandon Mason leaving, the Aggies will need someone to take the pressure off returning guard Jason Fontenet, who as a sophomore had 113 dishes and averaged double figure scoring. Point guard Detrui Roberson of Conners State CC in Oklahoma knocked down 62 3-pointers last year while scoring close to 15 ppg. Byron Davis will come straight from Rogers High School in Detroit. The 6-foot-2 two-time first team All-State selection won the state championship in 2003 while averaging 19.9 ppg, 6.1 rpg, 4.7 apg and is comfortable at both guard positions.

Arkansas – Little Rock (18-12, 8-6)

Key Players Leaving
Guard Mark Green, 11.5 ppg
Guard Jibrahn Ike, 13.5 ppg

Key Players Returning
Senior guard Tony Travis, 5.3 ppg
Senior forward Columbus Willis, 5.7 ppg, 3.1 rpg
Senior forward Jamal Holden, 7.8 ppg, 4.9 rpg
Senior guard Nick Zachery, 14,1 ppg, 65 assists

Notes: The most devastating change for the Trojans in the offseason, proved not to be Head Coach Poter Moser’s departure. He may have left UALR for Illinois State after posting a three-year record of 54-34, but the Trojans chose to keep it all in the family, promoting Steve Shields to the helm. For the past three years Shield has been an assistant coach and the recruiting coordinator under Moser.

But Shields will have to do without Jake Yancey; the 6-10 forward injured his knee last season after playing in 22 games (starting in 19). Doctors said a knee operation would require eight months of rehabilitation and would not for sure fix his knee. Yancey has decided to return to school to finish his degree and will be at Trojans games this season without his uniform. Some of Shields’ recruits include combo guard Zack Wright. The District 174A MVP led his Ellison Eagles of Killeen, Texas to a record of 35-2. Wadale Williams (6-foot-0) scored 1746 career points at Columbia Central High School. The guard led his school to a 31-4 record while averaging 20.5 ppg, 5.5 rpg, 6 apg and 4.2 spg. Zack Graber, a guard from Coffeyville CC, is the last addition to the backcourt for the Trojans. With guards Mark Green and Jibrahn Ike departing the help will be needed, but senior Nick Zachery should be the go-to-guy in a starting role after withdrawing his name from the NBA draft. He has graduated UALR, but will attend graduate school in the fall.

South Alabama (14-14, 7-8)

Key Players Leaving
Guard Demetrice Williams, 14.0 ppg, 4.93 apg (No. 2 in the SB), 76 steals (No. 1 in SB)
Forward Henry Williams, 11.4 ppg, 6.1 rpg

Key Players Returning
Senior guard Chris Young, 15.9 ppg, 3.1 rpg
Senior forward Malerick Bedden, 14.0 ppg, 3.4 rpg
Sophomore forward Richard Law, 6.0 ppg
Senior forward marques Ivy, 4.7 ppg
Sophomore guard Ugo Ezekwe

The Jaguars may have fallen to Middle Tennessee in the quarterfinals, but a 3-point loss, 72-69, to the SBC tournament runner-ups is something USA can build on. Senior guard Chris Young was able to wrangle the SBC’s newcomer of the year award from UNO’s Johnell Smith. Young, who transferred from Dayton Beach CC, averaged 15.9 ppg and set two new records for the Jaguars – most 3-pointers in a game (8) and most 3-pointers in a season (99).

New Orleans (15-14, 7-8)

Key Players Leaving
Forward Hector Romero, 19.3 ppg (No.3 in SB), 9.3 rpg (No.3 in SB)
Center Nerijus Lisauskas, 5.4 ppg

Key Players Returning
Senior guard A.J. Meredith, 7.0 ppg, 98 assists
Senior forward/guard Kentrell Martin, 5.5 ppg, 3.5 rpg
Senior guard Kyle Buggs, 7.7 ppg, 4.8 rpg
Senior guard Johnell Smith, 14.0 ppg

Notes: The Privateers struggled after leading scorer, Hector Romero, tore his anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee in a game against Denver on February 23. The loss of Romero forced the Privateers to altar the offense since their main weapon was permanently benched. Romero was named to the United States Basketball Writers Association All-District VII Team and will be heavily missed, but UNO is bringing in a recruiting class of three forwards and one point guard. Bo Lester McCalebb, who led the state of Louisiana in scoring by averaging 32.1 points per game from the point guard position, signed a letter with the Privateers. Along with McCalebb is 6-foot-10 forward Jacque Pate who led Howard Community College in Big Spring Texas to a 29-4 record and a No. 15 NJCAA ranking. Also incoming will be 6-foot-10 forward Ben Elias and 6-foot-8 forward Nathaniel Parker.

Denver (17-15, 7-8)

Key Players Leaving
Guard Dusty Waldington, 4.6 ppg, 121 assists
Guard B.J. Pratt, 16.0 ppg

Key Players Returning
Senior center Brett Starkey, 12.0 ppg, 9.7 rpg (No.2 in SB)
Junior guard Erik Benzel, 11.2 ppg, 3.1 rpg
Senior forward Carvell McAlister, 7.0 ppg, 3.8 rpg
Senior forward Zelijko Zupic, 6.6 ppg, 5.4 rpg
Junior Rodney Billups, 5.3 ppg, 85 assists

Notes: If Kermit Davis is SB Coach of the Year for turning around MTSU’s program than Terry Carroll could easily top the ballots next year if the Pioneers capitalize on their late postseason explosion. The Pioneers rattled off Arkansas State in a spectacular come from behind game in the first round of the SBC tourney, before toppling top-seeded Western Division champs Louisiana-Lafeyette 72-68. UD dropped the semifinal game to the Blue Raiders, but the Pioneers, who have been in the Div. I ranks for only five years, rode the back of senior guard B.J. Pratt through the tourney. Pratt scored 58 points in UD’s wins and was named to the SBC all-tournament team. Denver finished the season posting the team’s first-ever post season victories as well as the program’s best ever Div. I record.

Losing Pratt’s and Waldington’s presence will hurt the Pioneers next season, but Carroll has set a goal of 20 wins, hoping to find viable replacements for his leading scorer and assist men.

Denver led the SBC with an assist to turnover ratio of 1.08, largely because of their experienced backcourt. Joining Benzel and Billups will be James Lane of Colorado Springs High School and David Kramer of Cedar rapids. Other recruits include a 6-foot-6 forward out of Colorado. Antonio Porch averaged 16.6 ppg and 5.9 rpg, posted a 60-8 record in the last three seasons and brought two league titles to Denver East. Joining him will be community college transfers Yemi Nicholson of Fort Lewis College and Terrence Gordon of Whittier College.

Arkansas State (13-15, 6-8)

Key Players Leaving
Guard Tony Brown, 9.3 ppg, 3.4 rpg
Center Paris London, 11.3 ppg, 4.4 rpg
Guard Odie Williams, 7.5 ppg, 3.9 apg

Key Players Returning
Senior forward Kim Adams, 6.6 ppg, 9.0 rpg
Senior guard Antonio Rambo, 8.0 ppg
Senior guard Trevoris Thompson, 15.3 ppg

Notes: The Indians may be losing three of their top four scorers, but recruits should help balance the scoring next season. The Indians led the SBC in made 3 – point field goals with 241and with Trevoris Thompson returning, who hit 84, the 3-point threat will still live at Arkansas State.

The new class will consist of first-team All-American J.J. Montgomery from Angelina Junior College. As a sophomore Montgomery left the school as its all-time leading scorer after averaging 32 ppg, 8.2 rpg and 2.2 spg. Troy Slaten (6-foot-6, 195) will be a nice addition to the backcourt. He transfers as eligible for his sophomore season with the Indians after averaging 19 ppg and 7.2 rpg at Southwestern Illinois College. Jackson, Miss. native Isaac Wells (6-foot-8, 225) was named MVP of the Mississippi/Alabama All-Star game and for the majority of the season he helped keep his Lanier High School team in the USA Today High School Top 25 poll.

North Texas (7-21, 2-13)

Key Players Leaving
Guard Chris Davis, 19.0 ppg (No.1 in SB – 494 points) 7.2 rpg, 77 assists
Forward Jermaine Green, 11.3 ppg, 3.0 rpg
Guard Lee Green, 6.5 ppg

Key Players Returning
Junior guard Leonard Hopkins, 12.7 ppg, 5.3 rpg
Senior forward Michael DeGrate, 8.7 ppg, 4.7 rpg
Senior guard Jerome Rogers, 7.9 ppg

Notes: Chris Davis ended his career with the Mean Green only 38 points of the program’s all-time leading scoring record. For the second consecutive season he was named to the SBC first team.

With him gone, coach Johnny Jones will have to find someone lead the team in scoring, rebounding and assists. UNT has signed State Fair Missouri Community College transfer Marqus Mitchell. The 6-foot-0 guard was named to the first team All-Region XVI as a freshman and a sophomore. Mark Wilson, who finished his season with Highland Community College of Freeport, Illinois as a member of the NJCAA second team, is a 6-foot-3 guard who averaged 22.2 ppg, 9.4 rpg and 3.6 apg. He finished 12th in the nation in scoring and helped his team to a record of 28-5 and 27-6 his freshman and sophomore seasons, respectively.

Florida International (8-21, 1-13)

Key Players Leaving
Forward Rodrigo Viegas, 8.7 ppg, 4.0 rpg
Guard Fab Fisher, 6.7 ppg
Forward Nikola Novakovic, 6.2 ppg, 4.2 rpg

Key Players Returning
Senior forward Eulis Baez, 12.7 ppg, 8.2 rpg
Senior guard Junior Matias, 12.6 ppg
Junior guard Carlos Morban, 8.0 ppg, 2.7 apg, 64 steals (No. 3 in SB)
Junior forward Taurance Johnson, 5.0 ppg

Notes: The good news for the Golden Panthers is that the team ranked No.1 in scoring defense in the SBC, but unfortunately dead last in scoring offense, averaging only 60.5 points a game, eight points below the closest competition and 17 points from the top spot.
But the Golden Panthers are returning their nucleus, consisting of Baez (who had 11 double-doubles on the season and finished fifth in rebounding for the SBC), Morban (third in the SBC with 64 steals and 12th in the SBC with 79 assists) and Matias (finished sixth in the SBC with 44 steals).


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