Photo | Spring Hill College
Returning Spring Hill College junior forward Tiffany Valentine was selected as SIAC Women’s Basketball Player of the Year (17.5 points per game, 7.1 rebounds per game).
The start of the 2018-19 college basketball season is just a few days away. Here’s a glance at the three schools calling Mobile County home.
Spring Hill College women: The Badgers are now full members of the National Collegiate Athletic Association’s (NCAA) Division II. Unfortunately, the extra time spent in the transitional period put a damper on an incredible season by the SHC women.
The team finished with a program record 14-game winning streak to go 22-6 overall. SHC had a 15-3 mark in Southern Intercollegiate Athletic Conference (SIAC) play, which tied Central State University for first place in the division. However, SHC won the tiebreaker by taking both head-to-head contests during the regular season and building a perfect 12-0 mark in divisional play.
Tiffany Valentine, a 6-foot-1 junior forward, was selected as SIAC Women’s Basketball Player of the Year (17.5 points per game, 7.1 rebounds per game). Elise Reilly, a 5-foot-7 junior guard, earned all-conference honorable mention recognition (15.5 ppg, 3-point record for single season at 98 and career at 170).
“We are excited about the upcoming season,” SHC head coach Karen McConico said. “We return two starters from last season. We have a really young team. We do not have a lot of veteran experience on the team, so we will take our bumps and bruises in hopes that by conference time we have it figured out.”
Spring Hill College men: Craig Kennedy was named the men’s head coach in June, having served as an assistant athletic director for the Badgers. He is a 38-year coaching veteran who has worked at Troy, Georgia Southern, Auburn and the University of Winnipeg.
“This is a very young and inexperienced team that is having to learn a new system of play with a new coaching staff,” he said. “Senior forward Chase Shellman tore his ACL in the summer and that will be a significant loss to the team. Veteran point guard Jared Holland has a great work ethic and is doing a tremendous job as is senior big man Brandon Fischer.”
Spring Hill was 12-16 overall, while going 9-10 in the SIAC. Fischer, a 6-foot-7 forward, was all-conference honorable mention (13 ppg, 4.5 rpg). Gresyn Rogers, a 6-foot-5 guard (8.2 ppg, 1.6 rpg), was on the SIAC all-academic roster. The 5-foot-10 Holland averaged 1.6 rpg.
University of Mobile women: Erika Stuckman is stepping up from being an assistant coach to take the reins. The team went 14-15 overall last year and 7-9 in the Southern States Athletic Conference (SSAC).
“This season I am looking forward to seeing these ladies progress and get better,” said Stuckman, whose squad has been picked to finish seventh in league play. “I’m happy with the growth thus far and excited about how far we can go as a team.”
She said the key returning players are junior guard Kendra Langham (10.8 ppg), who was second-team all-conference, and sophomore forward Artasia McDowell (8 ppg, 8.1 rpg), who made the SSAC all-freshman team.
Other veterans being counting on are junior guard Jordyn York and junior forward Jazmine Atkins.
University of Mobile men: This marks the 20th season Joe Niland has served as head coach of the Rams. He’s hoping for a better outcome than last year when Mobile was 12-19 overall and 6-12 in the SSAC.
Niland’s main reason to be optimistic is the return of 6-foot-5 senior forward Tony-Toni Wright, an alumnus of Davidson High School and Bishop State Community College. He was on the SSAC first-team and was the conference’s Newcomer of the Year after averaging 16 points and 7 rebounds per game. Wright was named a National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics (NAIA) honorable mention All-American and a Basketball Times magazine All-American. Going into his senior campaign, Wright has been picked a preseason NAIA Player of the Year candidate by Basketball Times and a preseason All-American.
“With returning four-year starter at the point guard spot in DJ Hill along with SSAC Newcomer of the Year and honorable mention All-American Tony-Toni Wright, the Rams feel very good about the prospects for the upcoming season,” said Niland, whose team is picked to finish seventh in the conference.
Hill, a 5-foot-10 senior, average 10 ppg and 4 assists per game last year. Other veterans are 6-foot-3 junior Will Stanford (10 ppg, 5 rpg) and 6-foot-5 junior Darius Curry (9 ppg, 5 rpg).
University of South Alabama women: The Jaguars welcome back seven letter winners from a team that went 21-13 overall and 11-7 in the Sun Belt Conference (SBC). They are coming off their first postseason appearance since 2004.
Leading the way is SBC Freshman of the Year Savannah Jones. The 6-foot guard from Ocean Springs returns as the Jags’ top scorer having averaged 12.1 ppg and made 70 three-pointers. She is on the SBC preseason all-league team.
Other returning starters are 5-foot-5 junior guard Shaforia Kines (9.2 ppg, 116 assists) and 6-foot-1 sophomore center Antoinette Lewis (9.0 ppg, 43 blocks, 206 rebounds). USA is picked to finish sixth in the league.
“I was pleased with our effort in our first two practices,” said head coach Terry Fowler, who is entering his 20th year as a head coach and fifth at USA. “We’ve had great energy and great attitudes.”
University of South Alabama men: Richie Riley is taking over at USA after the Jaguars went 14-18 overall and 7-11 in the SBC. Through the first days of preseason practice, he said there are plenty of positives as he has seven returning veterans.
“I’m really encouraged by the amount of focus our guys have come out with,” said Riley, who coached the last two years at Nicholls State. “Obviously, we’re not a finished product, but we are trending in the right direction.”
The Jaguars bring back their top five scorers and most of their total point production. Senior guard Rodrick Sikes led the team with 18.7 points per game. Herb McGee averaged 8.3 ppg a season ago and dished out a team-high 95 assists. Josh Ajayi was the team’s top rebounder (6.7 rpg), the second-leading scorer (12.9 ppg) and recorded a USA-best six double-doubles.
Others who started games last year are junior forward Trhae Mitchell (7.0 ppg, 194 rebounds), junior guard Jordan Andrews (6.2 ppg), junior forward Kevin Morris (3.4 ppg) and sophomore guard John Pettway (3.2 ppg).
In the SBC preseason selections, Sikes was named to the second-team unit while Ajayi was on the third-team. The league’s coaches picked the Jags seventh in the poll.