Summer School: College of Charleston

Two weeks ago, the Golden State Warriors brought Oakland its first NBA Championship in 40 years. The man who brought the Warriors that 1975 NBA Championship? Ricky Barry.

For worse or for worse, Barry’s greatness is lost on most millenials. We ’90s babies are limited to admiring his stats on BR, and gawking at his YouTube highlights. We’re more familiar with Jackie Moon that college kid who honors his father by shooting “granny-style” free throws.

Basketball goes full circle, and it brings us back to CAA Hoops.

We’ve made it almost halfway through the offseason, and I’m here to make the trek to November slightly more tolerable.

After Damion Lee and Four McGlynn’s initial fireworks, hoops life went into a multi-week lull. There were (thankfully) no coaching changes, and the total number of transfers paled in comparison to years’ past.

But things have ramped up in June.

  • Marcus Thornton, the ’14-’15 CAA Player of the Year and William & Mary’s all-time leading scorer, was selected 45th overall in the NBA Draft by the Boston Celtics. It’s gratifying to see four-year studs get picked ahead of guys whose career peaks came in the McDonald’s All-American Game, and the pot’s sweetened when the guy is one of our own.
  • Elijah Bryant, the ’14-’15 Freshman of the Year, announced he’s transferring from Elon.

These are the precursors to another fascinating season that will be just as wild and erratic as the last.

Lace up, everyone. We’re officially counting down to November.


College of Charleston (9-24, 3-15)

On September 2nd, 2014, the College of Charleston men’s basketball program, coming off its second losing season in 23 years as a D-I team, hired its fourth head coach since January 2012.

I hope Earl Grant got some rest that Labor Day Weekend, because the first-time head coach had his work cut out for him.

Grant had 10-and-a-half weeks to get his new squad, one whose previous coach was let go amid allegations of verbal abuse, ready for a November 14th Season Opener.

Compare that to the surprising UNCW team that eventually ended Charleston’s season. By the time March rolled around, UNCW rookie head man Kevin Keatts’d (hired March 27th, 2014) had nearly twice as much time to develop his Seahawks as Grant’d had with his Cougars.

It goes without saying, but is still worth reiterating: Grant coached the ‘14-‘15 season under severely unfavorable circumstances. The tragic death of sophomore guard Chad Cooke, the previously stormy offseason, a demanding nonconference schedule, and an ill-timed injury to senior Anthony Stitt combined to create an everlasting uphill battle.

A promising 5-4 start dissipated into a 9-24 finish, and the College’s first ever 20-loss season.

Despite the fact that the Cougars have gone 23-42 overall and 9-25 in league play during their first two CAA seasons, there are reasons to believe that Grant can be the man to turn things around. The program’s prosperous hoops history is not lost on the Charleston native, who recognizes that losing seasons are uncommon occurrences in Chucktown.

So what can we expect in ’15-’16? Charleston finished the season as KenPom’s 50th youngest team, and graduated its two most experienced players (Stitt and Adjehi Baru). With the number of new players matching the number of returnees (six), this year’s youthful team will have a much different look.

Led by a trio of experienced juniors, the backcourt will be Grant’s rock.

When we watched Canyon Barry and Joe Chealey in their first collegiate action at KFC Yum!, we saw glaring potential that was over the hills and far away (totals of 18 points, 14 turnovers). After combining to tally nearly 25 points per game as sophomores, it’s time for these guys to cash in on the extensive experience they’ve gained the last two seasons.

The other junior guard is 6’5” transfer Payton Hulsey, who started eight games as a freshman at Western Kentucky before going JUCO. Hulsey’s JUCO coach praised him for a versatility evident in his line (9.0 points, 7.2 rebounds, 5.0 assists, 2.5 steals per game).

Three underclassmen guards have the skills to threaten the hierarchy of seniority.

Grant offered Marquise Pointer while still at Clemson, and eventually beat out Wichita State, Louisiana Tech, and Ole’ Dirty for the guard’s services. Pointer is a crafty passer, and while his path to immediate playing time is a bit jumbled, he’s the lead guard of the future and will learn a lot from the veterans.

6’3” guard Grant Riller’s high school tapes are full of high-elevation jams, and the chatter in Charleston indicates he’s a step faster than his new teammates. Riller averaged 28.1 points per game and was Player of the Year in the Florida Athletic Coaches Association — honors he garnered over LSU-bound Burger Boy Antonio Blakeney. Riller will have a chance to prove he earned it when LSU visits TD Arena in November.

From January 10th onward, sophomore Cameron Johnson started every game but Senior Day. Johnson hit the second-most 3-pointers (35) on the team, and with more slashers on this year’s club, he’ll be needed to space the floor.

Grant told Andrew Miller he’d like to keep his guards around 26-27 minutes per game. Rostering six capable guards will enhance practice competition and allow for more breathers. It’ll also be interesting to see if the added depth will entice Grant to quicken Charleston’s snail’s pace from a season ago.

The frontcourt is less settled, but there are some intriguing options.

Charleston’s lone senior is a newcomer. 6’8” Winthrop transfer James Bourne brings 51 career starts and a much-needed big body to the Cougar frontcourt. Those attributes might make him an early season starter.

Sophomore Donovan Gilmore started 21 games last season. If he’s bulked up enough to handle more minutes this season, he’ll be a good bet to start. Despite starting 15 fewer games, sophomore forward Evan Bailey actually logged more minutes than Gilmore, and could be in for an expanded role if he shoots the rock with consistency. I’m interested to see if junior Terrance O’Donohue improves upon his dozen minutes per outing.

The other newbies are freshmen. 6’10” redshirt Nick Harris has a chance to carve out immediate playing time. 6’7” power forward Jarrell Brantley was a late signee, and brings a college-ready body and winner’s mentality to the Cougar frontcourt.

The frontcourt is light on experience, which is part of the reason I think we’ll see Grant play stretches with Barry/Hulsey/Bailey at the four (expect small-ball lineups to be prominent throughout the CAA all season).

While it’s difficult to predict how the rotation will shake out, it’s abundantly clear that this team is in desperate need of some bucket getters. Grant comes from a defensively strong Clemson program (Brad Brownell, y’all), but isn’t in position to sit a player who can provide instant offense.

So if Riller can come in and fill it up on Day One, he’ll play.

Grant has a revamped roster, and the benefit of coaching his guys up over the offseason. The team defense should make a jump, and with a little regression to the mean (KenPom’s 26th unluckiest team had 13 single-digit losses), it’s easy to see where this team can make strides. With just one senior on the roster, this year is about bettering the team for a ’16-’17 season in which it could make noise.

Despite the roster upheaval, it would be optimistic peg this team higher than about eighth place in the 10-team CAA. Still, it’s a fresh rotation with dudes who don’t know their limitations together. They will be a pain to play, and have enough talent to beat any team in the league when the shots are falling.

At the very least, this team should be competitive enough to get King Kresse writing again.


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