By Rob Daniels, staff writer
For a little extra cost, shipping customers routinely expedite the flow of their packages. Too bad that principle doesn’t apply to player development in basketball.
“You can’t change youth in 15 practices,” UNCG coach Mike Dement said the other day. “It’s going to take a certain amount of experience before they start to click.”
By “they,” Dement was referring to almost all of his 2010-11 Spartans, the youngest bunch in the Southern Conference by leaps and bounds and months and years. While there are challenges inherent in throwing kids into Hurricanes and at Tigers, there’s also a sense that it might pay off big one day.
For now, the rest of the SoCon is twice as experienced as UNCG, which has 12 years of previous experience among the 18 players on the roster. That works out to 0.7 years per man. The other 11 teams in the league average 1.4 years per player.
There is no getting around another fact: UNCG is the only team in the 340-plus Division I world that plays more than half of its non-conference games (six out of 11) against 2010 NCAA tournament participants. It’s seemingly a scary combination, but the Spartans’ job has always been to build something gradually in advance of the conference tournament, and by March, they hope to have made a long journey. It just won’t be by overnight courier.
The biggest of the newcomers is 6-foot-10 center Aloysius Henry, whose basketball-related travels have taken him from his native St. Lucia in the Windward Islands to Maine Central Institute (2,185 air miles); from Pittsfield, Maine to Three Rivers Community College in Poplar Bluff, Mo. (1,150 miles by car); and from Missouri to UNCG (706 miles by car.)
That’s 4,401 miles in all, and it doesn’t tell the full story by itself. Time can be your friend, too.
After his second JC season, in which the Three Rivers Raiders went 30-7 and advanced to the national championship game, Henry began attracting offers. Wright State brought him in for a visit and Colorado scheduled one of its own, but those plans fizzled almost simultaneously when both coaches got involved with other jobs. Ultimately, Brad Brownell went from Wright State to Clemson on April 13 and Jeff Bzdelik left Boulder to take over at Wake Forest the following day.
The Tigers and Demon Deacons are both on the Spartans’ 2010-11 schedule.
The changes of venue simplified the process for Henry, who had developed a good rapport with UNCG assistant coach Corey Gipson, another former Three Rivers player.
“I chose to come here because I’ve always wanted to come to an environment where I would feel comfortable with the coaching staff,” he said.
Guard Brandon Evans said the comfort level applies across the board.
“He’s a big addition to this team,” said Evans, the team’s only senior. “He’s going to cause a lot of double-teams this year and get us open on the wings so that we can knock down shots.”
One of Henry’s running mates will be another JC transfer, 6-8, 240-pound Aaron Brackett of Allegany (Md.) Community College. Brackett had 10 double-doubles a year ago and gives the Spartans the bulk they lacked in the past two seasons.
Few players got as much out their frames as 6-5 Ben Stywall did for UNCG over the past four seasons, but it’s hard to carry the disproportionate rebounding burden that Stywall bore. The Henry-Brackett combination is the most intriguing the Spartans have seen in several years.
“I don’t think we’ve had a big guy like (Henry),” Dement said. “Certainly we’ll need that size. Brackett is a pretty aggressive rebounder, which was important to us after losing Ben Stywall.”
The swing man in the group is 6-6 David Williams, who committed to Indiana in the April 2009 but did not sign. When he became available this past spring, UNCG was ready, and it ultimately got a guy who seems viable at four positions.
Cody Henegar, a 6-9 freshman from Tennessee, also figures to be in the mix with sophomore Brian Cole, who played 16 minutes a game as a freshman last year.
Dement believes his backcourt rotation can go six men deep. Evans is the only guy in the top 10 overall players who has more than one year of Division I ball to his name. His “veteran” running mates are sophomores Korey Van Dussen and Kyle Randall, and newcomers Williams, Drew Parker and Trevis Simpson should allow the Spartans to run and trap defensively.
“We’ll be able to play them in waves and in different combinations,” Dement said.
Parker racked up the insane total of 963 assists at LaPorte (Texas) High School. Simpson, who had been bothered in preseason by a shoulder injury and returned to full practice early last week, attracted preliminary interest from Florida, Georgia, Georgia Tech and Clemson, among others.
Simpson and Williams played AAU ball together and figure to continue the relationship in the Southern Conference.
It’s one of the biggest incoming classes in UNCG history and potentially one of the most important. Although the schedule is exceptionally difficult, Dement believes he’ll have the physical presence necessary to compete and improve in the name of the March push.
“It’s a very good group,” Evans said. “They listen very well. I’ve gotten a good feel of what those players can do and how we can help each other.”