The start of college basketball is just around the corner, and several local squads are ready to compete for conference honors. Here is a quick preview:
• University of South Alabama women’s team opens its season Nov. 2, hosting Faulkner in an exhibition game. The regular season starts Nov. 10 at home against Georgia Southwestern.
“We are really excited to get going. Our trip to Canada gave us a head start,” head coach Terry Fowler said of the three games played this summer north of the border. “It allowed us to put a lot of our offense in and implement our defensive strategy, but there is nothing like that first day of practice.”
The USA women welcome back numerous veterans from last year’s unit that finished 11-20 overall and 5-13 in conference play. Senior Chyna Ellis is the all-time leader in the program’s history, with 231 blocks, and third all-time in Sun Belt Conference history. Ellis also led the team in points per game (10.5) and rebounds per game (8.0).
Others who saw action are Genesis Perrymond, Candice Williams, LaNeetra Guillory, Erin Autio, Shaforia Kines, Kennedi Centers and India Hall. Savannah Jones is back after an early-season injury.
• University of South Alabama men’s team starts with an exhibition game Nov. 3 at North Alabama. The regular season tips off Nov. 10 at Texas Tech.
“We’ve changed some things, both offensively and defensively, that I think will enable us to really soar with our strengths that we have on our team,” said head coach Matthew Graves, whose team was 14-18 overall and 7-11 in league play last year. “We’ve simplified some things defensively and we’re working on making some adjustments offensively that I think will help enhance our ability to score the basketball.”
The Jags’ top returning scorer (10.6 ppg) and rebounder (5.4 rpg) is Josh Ajayi. Others who started games are Dederick Lee, Trhae Mitchell and Herb McGee. Nick Davis, Kevin Morris and Ethan Haslam also saw action.
Sophomore Jordan Andrews red-shirted last year after transferring from Youngstown State. He was a Horizon League All-Freshman Team honoree in 2015-16 after averaging 7.9 points.
• University of Mobile women’s team takes the court first, playing play Oct. 29 at West Florida. The Rams’ first home game is against Selma on Nov. 1.
“This is one of the youngest teams I’ve had at [University of] Mobile, but what we lack in experience, we make up for in talent and heart,” said head coach Billy Evans, who has seven freshmen and six sophomores on his roster. “We have scheduled some challenging nonconference opponents to prepare us for the always rigorous SSAC schedule. There will be some growing pains, but we will get better with each game and find our identity. I am excited to see who is going to step up and take advantage of the opportunity to become impact players this season.”
Last year’s team went 20-10 overall and 13-7 in league play, but saw All-American performers Starla Daggan and Kali Koenig graduate. The only returner who played more than 500 minutes is Ryann Sylvester. Others who saw action are Jordyn York, Jazmine Atkins, Caitlyn Hall, Jordan Hall and Kendra Langham.
UM won the Southern States Athletic Conference tournament. The Rams are picked to finish fourth in the league’s preseason poll.
• University of Mobile men’s team will start its season Nov. 1, hosting Selma. In the SSAC preseason poll, the Rams are picked to finish in fifth place after going 9-21 overall and 5-15 in league play.
“We are very excited about this year’s schedule,” said head coach Joe Niland, who is starting his 19th year with UM. “As always, the SSAC conference will be strong and our nonconference games consist of some of the top teams in the NAIA.”
Of the three returning starters, Darius Curry was named to the conference All-Freshman team after leading the Rams in scoring with 294 points. Other starters back are D.J. Hill and Will Stanford, while Davin Curry saw some action.
Key junior college recruits expected to make an impact are Tony-Toni Wright, Michael Sission and JaBarie Escoffery. Joining the coaching staff is John Redman, who helped the Dalton State Roadrunners win the 2014-15 NAIA Championship.
• Spring Hill College women’s team opens its season Nov. 6 with an exhibition game at Southern University-Baton Rouge. The first home game is Nov. 16 versus Delta State.
“We are young,” said head coach Karen McConico, whose team was 14-12 overall and 8-8 in league play. “We lost three of our starters from last year so we have a lot to rebuild, but I think this team will end up being pretty good, as they mature daily. We are going to take it possession by possession, and hope that by conference we have it together.”
One returning player is Elise Reilly, the Southern Intercollegiate Athletic Conference’s Freshman of the Year and all-conference performer. The shooting guard led the Badgers in scoring (15.0 ppg). She set a SHC single-game record with nine 3-point buckets versus Kentucky State when she also scored the second-most points in a single game in SHC history with 39. She hit 72 of her 3-point shots to set a team high.
Also back from last year are Jewel Hill, Jennifer Clark, Katie Krout, Daja Walker, Windee Johnson, Gabrielle Moore and Kennedi Goff.
• Spring Hill College men’s team will tip off Nov. 5 with an exhibition game at Samford. The Badgers host Pensacola Christian on Nov. 16.
“We are very excited about the potential of this year’s team,” said Aaron Niven, who is entering his seventh year as head coach. “For the first time [in team history] we have most of our players returning, which should reduce the learning curve for this year’s team. I think finishing last season as strong as we did should help us get out of the blocks quicker, which is something that we have struggled with in the past few years.”
The top returner is LeFlore graduate Walter Massey, who led the Badgers in scoring (13 ppg) and rebounding (8 rpg) and was SHC’s Athlete of the Year. Brandon Fischer, who averaged 11 points and 6 rebounds a game, is also back.
The Badgers finished 10-18 overall, but 9-8 in SIAC play. Other veterans are Jack Morrissey, William Loyd, Gresyn Rogers, Chase Shellman, Jared Holland, Deandre Lacy and Matevz Rojc.
Photo | University of South Alabama – USA senior Chyna Ellis is the all-time leader in the program’s history, with 231 blocks, and third all-time in Sun Belt Conference history.