EAST GREENSBORO (November 6, 2018) – North Carolina A&T’s newcomers to the men’s basketball team are not secrets.
There is plenty of information on them because they are not new to college basketball. The Aggies have three junior college transfers, three graduate transfers, one Division I transfer who is a junior and two graduate students on the roster. Therefore, experience is not a problem for N.C. A&T. How long it will take them to gel is the key question for the 2018-19 season?
The Aggies finished the 2017-18 season 20-15 overall and 11-5 in the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference. N.C. A&T went 12-0 at home, put together just their third 20-win season in 30 years, advanced to the semifinals of the MEAC tournament and they earned a postseason bid to the CollegeInsider.com Tournament. But the majority of that team is gone.
Leading scorer Femi Olujobi transferred to DePaul. Key veterans Denzel Keyes, Devonte Boykins and Davaris McGowens exhausted their eligibility. Six others either transferred or graduated leaving the Aggies with some holes to fill from a banner season.
“We will not have a drop off in terms of talent,” said Jay Joyner who enters his fourth overall season and third full season as N.C. A&T’s head men’s basketball coach. “We have guys who have played Division I basketball for quite some time. We have guys who have graduated college, so we have maturity. This is also the most depth we have had since I started coaching here. They just have to learn how to play together.”
Joyner came to Aggieland as Cy Alexander’s associate head coach in 2012. He took over for Alexander on an interim basis 22 games into the 2015-16 season. He went 5-5, was named the head coach before the 2016 MEAC tournament before suffering through a three-win season in 2016-2017. He turned that around in 2017-18 earning coach of the year honors from the MEAC.
Going into the 2018-19 season, MEAC head coaches and sports information directors predicted a fifth-place finish for the Aggies in the league.
But the Aggies lost so much and gained so much, the league does not know what to make of the new-look Aggies. The Aggies are only one of 12 teams in the nation with only one player with more than one year of experience. Everyone accept graduate guard Amari Hamilton has played less than two years with Joyner’s program.
“Last is last year,” said Joyner. “We certainly want to build upon the success we had last season. But the truth be told, we came up short last season. Making it to the postseason was a tremendous accomplishment. I want to see us finish the job in the conference tournament.”
The challenge will be replacing Olujobi’s 16.3 points per game. McGowens and Keyes will probably be even harder to replace. During the 16-game conference season, it was Keyes and McGowens who led the Aggies in scoring and hustle. Boykins connected on a team-best 56 3-pointers.
What the Aggies have going in their favor is the return of sophomore Kameron Langley, one of the best point guards in the MEAC. Langley was a member of the MEAC’s all-rookie team and he was named preseason third-team All-MEAC for the 2018-19 season. Langley led the MEAC in assists-to-turnover ratio and total steals (59). He was second in the league in steals per game (1.7) and fourth in assists per game (5.1).
He also gained more confidence in his shot. Forty-seven of his 88 field goals were made over the last third of the season. Similarly, 10 of his 15 3-pointers made last season came over that same span.
Never afraid to play two point guards on the floor at the same time, Joyner also returns senior Aaren Edmead for his second season at N.C. A&T. Edmead is the Aggies returning leading scorer at 9.6 points per game last season. He showed flashes of being a scoring threat in 2017-18. He had 25 points in the Aggies upset win over East Carolina and he had 19 in the Aggies key conference win at Bethune-Cookman.
The Aggies other returners include senior and junior college transfer Milik Gantz who scored 21 points at Georgetown last season. Hamilton, a 3-point threat off the bench, decided to use his last year of eligibility and 6-foot-10 D’Andre Johnson hopes to play a bigger role heading into his sophomore season.
Middle Tennessee State transfer Qua Copeland sat out last season per NCAA rules for Division I transfers. He hopes to fill the void for some of the 3-point shooting the Aggies lost. Junior college transfers Andre Jackson and Ronald Jackson, Jr. will add to N.C. A&T’s depth. Jackson is a scorer out of Manatee-Sarasota Junior College, while Jackson Jr., should be able to provide rebounding and some scoring for the Aggies.
Joyner’s three graduate transfers include two big men in 6-foot-9 Nelson Nweke (Arkansas State) and 6-foot-8 Ibrahim Syllas (Northern Colorado). Nweke and Syllas’ big bodies should be a problem for opponents trying to score in the paint. They will also be relied on heavily to rebound. Harris, the other graduate transfer, is eager to make an impact on the Division I level after playing at Houston Baptist and Eastern Michigan previously.
The freshman class that is expected to see the floor this season includes Baltimore native Ed Ferguson, New Yorker Tyrone Lyons and Greensboro’s Travon Mayo.
“When you win three games and then turn around and win 20 the next season, everyone starts to believe you have arrived,” said Joyner. “The truth is we are still in the rebuilding process. You have to prove you can win year after year. You have to continue to graduate young men out of your program. You want to make sure you’re preparing these guys for the world that awaits them. We’re still in the process of building this program the right way.”