New-Look Aggies Have Put 2016-17 Behind Them
North Carolina A&T men’s basketball retooled things during the offseason. After a tough three-win season, head coach Jay Joyner made changes with his coaching staff, his roster and himself. Now the Aggies appear equipped to erase the memory of their three-win season in 2016-2017 and make a move toward moving up in the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference.
“You learn so much about yourself as a coach when you go through self-examination,” said Joyner. “You learn what works and what doesn’t work. It is important I get the players to buy in to what we’re doing and where we’re going as a program. I think that is starting to happen. Guys are listening, and they are responding and that is a good thing.”
Joyner even lost weight during the offseason to symbolize the improvements he wants to see in the men’s basketball program. Despite the tough losses to Georgia Tech, UMass and Delaware State among others, Joyner always believed the program had the parts in place to get better. Three Division I transfers – junior Aaren Edmead (5-foot-10, 165, Guard, Deer Park, N.Y.), redshirt sophomore Japhet Kadji (6-7, 205, Forward, Doula, Littoral) and redshirt junior Femi Olujobi (6-8, 233, F, Long Island, N.Y.) – were laying low while the Aggies toiled.
Edmead transferred and Kadji transferred from Wagner. Edmead’s point guard skills and 3-point shooting will be an asset for the Aggies offensively. Kadji can also hit the three, while also providing the Aggies with a big who can put the ball on the floor and get to the basket. Olujobi will be a big active body in the post that will cause opponents problems offensively and defensively. More veteran help came the Aggies way when graduate transfer Devonte Boykins (6-2, 180, G, Forest City, N.C.) was added out of Georgia Southern. The Aggies are looking for Boykins to bring the defensive intensity he showed at GSU.
Two junior college transfers should also make a difference for N.C. A&T in 2017-18. Junior Kwei Lartey (6-4, 208, G, Atlanta, Ga.) led Spartanburg Methodist College to a regional championship and the National Junior College Athletic Association tournament as a sophomore. He finished his sophomore season averaging 11.8 points, 5.9 rebounds and 3.1 assists per game while shooting 55 percent from the field and 49 percent from 3-point range. Junior Milik Gantz (6-3, 180, G, Harrisburg, Pa.) is a combo guard who was a third-team JUCO All-American. He spent two seasons at Harcum, where he led the Bears to 50 wins and a district championship in 2016.
Then there are the returners to add even more veteran leadership. Highlighting the returners so to speak is fifth-year wingman Denzel Keyes (6-4, 210, G/F, Kinston, N.C.) who did not play for the Aggies during the 2016-17 season after playing the three previous seasons, as he focused on football. Keyes went on to break the school record in touchdown receptions (25) during the Aggies 2016 football season. Keyes is now back to add the defensive intensity he became known for as a hoops player. In 2015-16, he led the Aggies in rebounding at 7.3 per game.
Senior Donte Watson (6-6, 185, G, New Orleans) showed flashes of being a brilliant offensive player last season. He had 18 points and seven rebounds on 4-for-7 shooting from 3-point range against Delaware State on Jan. 7. A week later he had 19 points and eight rebounds on 8-for-11 shooting at Coppin State. Senior Davaris McGowens (6-7, 230, F, Taylors, S.C.) had a superb first season in Aggieland. McGowens averaged 9.6 points and 6.9 rebounds, while shooting .486 from the floor. McGowens ranked fourth in the MEAC in rebounding and seventh in shooting. Sophomore Raymon Pratt (6-3, 197, G, Greensboro, N.C.) is coveted by the Aggies because of his defensive presence on the floor.
Two more returning guards – redshirt junior Amari Hamilton (6-1, 165, Durham, N.C.) and senior Austin Williams (6-1, 175, Queens, N.Y.) – will try to find their role for the new-look Aggies. At one point last season, Hamilton was one of the hottest shooters in the nation. From Jan. 4-Feb. 13, Hamilton was 28-for-59 (.475) from 3-point range. With the extra talent around him, Hamilton’s ability to get open looks from three could enhance the Aggies offense. Williams is the only player in the program who has played four consecutive years.
A veteran squad should help freshmen Kameron Langley (6-2, 205, G, Greensboro, N.C.), D’Andre Johnson (6-10, 225, C, Washington, D.C.) and Myles Patten (6-4, 185, Brooklyn, N.Y.) adjust to life as college basketball players. Redshirt freshman Dalen Dotson (5-11, 170, Matthews, N.C.) is also back on the roster.
In addition to all the new players, Joyner also added two new coaches in associate head coach Jack Agostino and assistant David Butts.
The North Carolina A&T men’s basketball schedule includes two ACC foes, Big East school Georgetown, four home games over the first two months of the season and a trip to Las Vegas.
“We need to take care of home early, so we can establish a homecourt advantage,” said Joyner. “We also need to win some of those games against teams who were close to us in RPI last season. How we play in those contests will tell me a lot about how close we are to being where we need to be going into conference play.”