Photo | By Brad McPherson
The first recorded game of basketball was played on Dec. 21, 1891. Since that time, it has exploded into one of the most popular sports in the world.
Colleges have been fielding teams since the beginning. Here is a preview of the teams representing Mobile County:
University of South Alabama (USA) men
Three national publications have picked the Jaguars to win the Sun Belt Conference (SBC). Lindy’s, Blue Ribbon College Basketball Yearbook and Street & Smith all have USA as its preseason favorite, and named seniors Josh Ajayi and Trhae Mitchell to its all-conference teams.
The SBC coaches’ preseason poll also has the Jags in first place with 138 total points and 8 first-place votes. Others getting first-place votes were Texas-Arlington, Georgia Southern and Texas State.
Mitchell, who became the first player in school history to lead the team in rebounds, assists, steals and blocks, is the Preseason Player of the Year by both the SBC coaches and Lindy’s magazine. Ajayi averaged a team-best 16.4 points per game and led the league in field-goal percentage (0.56). They are both on the SBC preseason first-team roster.
Don Coleman has been named Lindy’s Newcomer of the Year and Top NBA Prospect. The senior guard sat out last season after transferring from California, where he led the Bears in scoring (14.2 ppg). He is on the SBC preseason third-team roster.
Head coach Richie Riley welcomes back five letter-winners (guards Herb McGee and John Pettway, plus forward Kevin Morris) from last year’s 17-17 team. He has 10 newcomers, including three transfers — Coleman, Josh Ayeni and Andre Fox — who sat out last season. Chad Lott arrived this summer as a graduate transfer.
“We’re excited about the new season,” Riley said. “Last year I think everybody knew we were coming in a little shorthanded; we sat three transfers out and had some injuries early, but I’m proud of our group from last season. The way that we fought and scrapped to win more games than had been won here in a while. But that’s not the standard; the standard is to be in the conversation to be Sun Belt champions. We’ve done a good job in recruiting and return some key guys from last year, and now we’re in that conversation.”
University of Mobile (UM) men
Coach Darnell Archey takes over a team that went 10-18 overall and 7-15 in Southern States Athletic Conference (SSAC) play. He is very familiar with the area, having served as an assistant men’s coach at USA from 2013 – 2018.
The Rams will be counting on several seniors to lead the way. Guard Will Stanford scored 189 points in 23 games while adding 21 assists and 33 steals.
Forward Darius Curry was second on the team in rebounds (133) and points scored (345). Center Devonte Sipling led the Rams with 12 blocks and 85 rebounds.
In the SSAC coaches’ preseason poll, the Rams are picked to finish 11th.
Spring Hill College (SHC) men
Craig Kennedy is looking for ways to help the Badgers bounce back this year. SHC went 8-20 overall and 4-14 in the Southern Intercollegiate Athletic Conference (SIAC) last season.
Among the veterans with three varsity letters are senior guard Gresyn Rogers and senior forward Chase Shellman, while junior forward Ryan Little has two letters. Also having seen action are senior guard Dwight Harris, sophomore guard Christian Brandt, sophomore forward David Daniels and sophomore guard Jordan McIlwain.
In the SIAC coaches’ preseason poll, the Badgers are predicted to finish last in the Western Division.
University of South Alabama women
The Jaguars are coming off a school-record 25 wins and their second national postseason tournament appearance in as many years after advancing to the second round of the Women’s National Invitation Tournament (WNIT). Terry Fowler is entering his seventh season at the helm.
All three players who averaged in double figures a year ago — senior Shaforia Kines and juniors Savannah Jones and Antoinette Lewis — are back this season, with each member of the trio within 200 points of recording 1,000 in their career.
The 6-foot-1 Lewis led USA in points (14.9), rebounds (9.2), steals (41) and blocks (64). In just two years, the center already ranks among the top 10 all-time in USA’s record book with a 54.8 field-goal percentage (second) and 107 blocks (sixth).
Jones, a guard, is the Jaguars’ all-time leader in both three-point field goals and free-throw percentages with marks of 41.3 and 82.7, respectively. The junior needs just 15 threes to move to the top of the career record list in that category as well.
Kines, a guard, averaged 12 points while adding 109 assists. Sophomore guard Deamaya Telemaque paced the Jaguars with 114 assists.
On the SBC preseason picks, Jones and Lewis are on the first-team rosters. Kines is on the third-team list with Mobile native Japonica James of Troy University. Arkansas-Little Rock is the preseason pick to win the league title, while USA got one first-place vote to finish in fourth place.
Spring Hill College women
The SIAC has named Tiffany Valentine to its preseason all-conference first-team roster. The 6-foot-1 senior forward averaged 20 points and 8.4 rebounds last year.
She has scored 1,163 points in her career and has twice been an SIAC All-Conference selection. Valentine was the SIAC Player of the year in 2017 – 2018.
Head coach Karen McConico will count on Valentine to help the Badgers improve on last year’s record. SHC was 12-16 overall and 7-10 in conference play.
Other veterans having earned three varsity letters with Valentine are senior guards Elise Reilly and Daja Walker. With two letters are junior forward Katie Krout and junior guards Angel Benson, Kate Hammond, Brandy Lee and Carrington Matias.
In the SSAC coaches’ preseason poll, the Badgers are predicted to finish last in the Western Division.
University of Mobile women
Erika Stuckman was named head coach in April, after having served as interim last season. The Rams went 14-18 overall and 11-9 in the SSAC.
Veterans leading the Rams are senior guard Jordyn York, who was second on the team with 375 points scored and 857 minutes played, along with senior forward Kendra Langham, who was the team leader in points scored (423), free throws (122), assists (71) and minutes played (941).
Seniors who started some games last season are guard Janae Strode, and forwards Caitlyn Hall and Jazmine Atkins. Juniors back are guard Kelsey Pinera, forward Artasia McDowell, forward Lauren Bodino and guard Tara Tuck.
Defending SSAC regular-season champion Bethel has been picked first in the coaches’ preseason poll. Mobile placed fifth.
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