Beyond Box Scores: Winter 2011-12 In Review
By Rob Daniels
Entering the 2011-12 season, Wes Miller was on the Spartans’ sideline as an assistant coach, but he ended the year as the Southern Conference Coach of the Year after taking over the reins of the program December 13, 2011.
Miller took over a team that stood at 2-9 under former head coach Mike Dement and, after a brief incubation period, sparked a six-week surge that revitalized a program and brought home a Southern Conference North Division title. Miller wound up as that new guy, ultimately trading up from interim to head coach at the age of 29, and suddenly the Spartans’ future looked bright in the Southern Conference.
The final overall record of 13-19 is best left in pencil rather than stone. The rally to a winning (10-8) mark in league play demonstrated viability and a new direction for a program seemingly overnight. Miller earned SoCon Coach of the Year honors for leading the Spartans to one of the wildest in-season turnarounds in program history.
You could say the change began with a win at the College of Charleston on Jan. 12, and that result did snap an 11-game losing streak. But for a really new feeling, proceed a couple of days to a different building in the same city.
The Spartans overcame an eight-point deficit in the second half against The Citadel and strapped themselves in for one of the wildest and most eventful seconds in the history of basketball.
No, that’s not an exaggeration.
In that last tick of the clock, time stopped three times. The horn went off four times. Only on the fourth did everybody decide that it might be real and final. When the Spartans headed off the floor, they were too bewildered to celebrate even though they had earned the right to do so.
The Citadel made what looked like a last-second, game-ending shot for a 65-64 win, but the officials, to their credit, called for a video replay to determine if UNCG still had a chance. It did.
And so a desperate pass resulted, and it ended the way most desperate passes do: with the ball over the sidelines and nowhere near the basket or an intended recipient. And with the horn blaring, the clock painted in zeroes and the home team now celebrating for the second time.
Then it became an infomercial. (“But wait. There’s more.”) A Bulldog player had knocked the ball out of bounds rather than simply catching it and allowing the scant time to expire. The Spartans had possession in front of their own bench and with 0.5 seconds to go, a decision reached after another use of technology.
Miller then diagrammed a play his team had never practiced. Trevis Simpson came off a screen at the top of the key and two Citadel defenders froze. Drew Parker’s perfect lob became a dunk and a smart one at that. Simpson released the ball as soon as possible, pulling his arms away to prove he hadn’t held on too long.
There was still time left, but the Bulldogs’ final pass went astray and the buzzer meant what it blared this time. And it set a precedent.
In one week of late January, the Spartans beat Wofford by one point and earned overtime triumphs over Appalachian State and Western Carolina. UNCG had a seven-game winning streak, its longest in 16 years.
Where did it come from?
“We began to build a foundation defensively toward the end of the year,” Miller said. “We need to become the right type of defensive team all the time.”
As far as development is concerned, Simpson emerged as one of the SoCon’s best players in his sophomore season, becoming the first Spartan to leading the league in scoring (18.3 points a game in all action, 19.9 per conference contest.) He has a mid-range game, a trait said to have disappeared in college basketball because dunks and 3-pointers are more telegenic.
Freshman Nicholas Paulos is a candidate for increased playing time in 2012-13 after shooting 35 percent from the 3-point line. Paulos didn’t miss a free throw, going 9-for-9.
David Williams, a classmate of Simpson’s, also embraced the late-game pressure, making a tip-in with 2.8 seconds left to secure one victory and turning in solid defense in the late stages of four other wins.
It adds up to an intriguing future.
After the season, Miller was rewarded with the permanent gig and went about the business of establishing his own staff. It includes names familiar to basketball fans in this region: former UNC Tar Heel Jackie Manuel, ex-Maryland Terrapin Duane Simpkins and associate head coach Mike Roberts.
Wendy Palmer replaced the retired Lynne Agee as head coach in 2011-12 and began a transition into a new era for UNCG women’s basketball.
Post player Sarafina Arthur-Williams, who played in the prestigious Capital Classic in Alexandria, Va., in April, is a three-star national prospect according toespn.com – a relatively rare designation for a Southern Conference player. She averaged 12 points and 14 rebounds a game as a high school senior in Maryland.
Local star Ebona Goins of Greensboro’s Dudley High School will have a chance to free up the middle for Arthur-Williams if she can translate her prep success to a higher level. A solid 3-point shooter, she can create her own perimeter attempts.
And then there’s Diamond Cooper, a Floridian who once blocked 16 shots in a high school game.
The Spartans will look considerably different in 2012-13 than in Palmer’s first season, and it’s reasonable to assume the results will follow.
Men’s Individual Honors
Paul Chelimo: All-American in 3,000 meters, SoCon Title mile race
Dylan Belles: SoCon All-Freshman Team in 5,000 meters
Distance Medley Relay SoCon Title – Paul Katam, Taylor Hurst, Joey Thompson and Paul Chelimo
Abraham Kemboi – SoCon All-Freshman Team in 3,000 meters
Ashley Schnell: SoCon Title mile race
Chelsea Sumney: All-SoCon in 5,000 meters
Distance Medley Relay SoCon Title – Chelsea Sumney, Kerry Hartman, Shaina Sumney and Ashley Schnell
The UNCG track and field program carried the momentum from the cross country season into the indoor track and field season. The Spartans turned in record-breaking performances on both days of the Southern Conference Indoor Track and Field Championships, while claiming four conference titles as they set two conference records.
UNCG got off to a quick start on day one of the SoCon Indoor Championships as the women’s distance medley relay team of Chelsea Sumney, Kerry Hartman, Shaina Sumney and Ashley Schnell set a new conference record winning the race by 19 seconds with a time of 11:43.99. The Spartans broke the SoCon record in the event by nine seconds, surpassing the previous mark set by Samford in 2009.
The Spartan men matched the title with one of their own in the distance medley relay as Paul Katam, Taylor Hurst, Joey Thompson and Paul Chelimo claimed the SoCon championship with a time of 9:59.73, winning by over 11 seconds.
Additionally, Abraham Kemboi picked up All-Freshman honors after completing the 3,000 meter race in ninth place after running an 8:35.01.
UNCG continued the momentum on day two of the SoCon Indoor Championships, claiming two more titles and setting another conference record. Ashley Schnell broke the Southern Conference record in the mile that was set in 2006 claiming the individual crown in a time of 4:46.42. She was seven seconds ahead of her nearest opponent and set a new SoCon record by two seconds.
Chelimo matched her effort on the men’s side, cruising to a three second victory in his race to win the men's mile race. He completed the course in a time of 4:06.57 to also earn first-team All-SoCon honors.
Additionally, Chelsea Sumney earned All-SoCon honors in the 5,000 meters as she came in second place in a time of 16:51.25.Dylan Belles was named to the SoCon All-Freshman Team in the 5,000 meters after running a 15:54.22.