EAST GREENSBORO – North Carolina A&T men’s basketball coach Jay Joyner rebuilt the Aggies program. After some transfers and graduations, he rebuilt it again. He now hopes the foundation is in place and the construction is such that the program is stable going forward.
After a three-win season in 2016-17, the Aggies reversed course and won 20 games in 2017-18. But the following year, some of the players who helped in the turnaround were gone leaving Joyner with the task of replenishing with one-year players.
He did just that with players such as Terry Harris, Ibrahim Sylla and Qua Copeland. The result was a 19-13 campaign with a 13-3 Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference (MEAC) record that resulted in a second-place finish in the MEAC.
Copeland, Sylla and Harris along with speedy guard Milik Gantz were Joyner’s top four scorers from a year ago. Now they are all gone leaving Joyner again with the task of replacing talented players from a championship-contending team.
This season will see the Aggies bring in eight new players. Four of those players are freshmen. Plus, the Aggies have redshirt freshman Elijah Joyner (6-foot-5, 175, R-FR, Greensboro, N.C.) who sat out last season. Three of the players are juniors and the other player is a fifth-year senior. Therefore, the likelihood of the Aggies having to fully replenish again is unlikely.
In the meantime, they have become one of the better programs in the MEAC despite the turnover. No matter who the players are, however, the goal remains the same.
“Someway, somehow, we have to get over the hump,” said Joyner who has seen his teams lose in the MEAC semifinals the past two seasons. “I think we have a chance to be good this year. But a chance is all it is at this point. We do have a solid team this year, but I think everyone in this league has the same shot. When the smoke clears, we hope we’re on top.”
One constant for the Aggies over the past two years has been Kameron Langley (6-2, 205, JR, point guard, Greensboro, N.C.). Langley has been one of the most effective point guards in the country. Over his first two years, he has dished out 385 assists and turned the ball over only 152 times.
Langley led the conference in assist-to-turnover ratio for the last two years. Last season, he led the MEAC and ranked 13th nationally in assists per game (6.5) and was second in total assists. His 208 assists in 2018-19 broke a single-season school record.
While Langley is the lone returning starter, he is now the only one returning. Junior college transfer Ronald Jackson (6-8, 205, SR, forward, Clay County, Fla.) gave the Aggies a lot of energy coming off the bench as a reserve last season. Jackson had three games where he scored 20 points or more and will be looked upon to provide even more scoring and rebounding this season.
Jackson averaged 7.5 points and 4.6 rebounds per game while leading the Aggies in scoring four times a year ago.
The other Jackson on the roster, no relation, is Andre Jackson (6-4, 175, SR, guard, Charlotte, N.C.) also returns for his second year after transferring in from a junior college. Jackson will be looked upon to provide scoring this season and he could be the Aggies starter at shooting guard. He made 16 3-pointers last season as a reserve guard.
Wingman Tyrone Lyons (6-6, 180, SO, guard/forward, Amityville, N.Y.) returns to give the Aggies a strong defensive presence. Lyons can guard numerous positions with his length. Lyons averaged 11.5 minutes as a freshman last season. Webster Filmore (6-6, 200, SO, forward, Charlotte, N.C.) played sparingly last season. As he matures, he will provide the Aggies with another big body in the paint.
“I think it’s extremely huge to have a solid core of returners coming back,” said Joyner. “Langley, of course, is our floor general and the Jacksons play extremely hard for me every night.”
Then there are the newcomers who fill out the lineup. The Aggies are expecting a strong presence from Youngstown State transfer Devin Haygood (6-8, 205, R-SR, Ypsilanti, Mich.). The other experience the Aggies brought in include Division I transfers Kwe Parker (6-0, 181, JR, guard, Fayetteville, N.C.) and Tyler Maye (6-2, 170, JR, guard, Farmville, N.C.) along with Greensboro College transfer Darus Maddox (6-0, 155, JR, guard, Lusby, Md.).
Parker is a transfer out of the University of Tennessee. He comes in with a reputation as a phenomenal dunker. Joyner will also look for Parker to provide a defensive presence on the perimeter with his quickness. Maye is a transfer out of VCU. He gives the Aggies another scoring punch and perimeter shooter. Maddox gives the Aggies another ballhandler.
N.C. A&T’s freshman class includes their future at point guard in Fred Cleveland, Jr. (5-10, 155, FR, guard, Chicago, Ill.). The speedy guard can shoot and has shown he can distribute the ball well during the preseason. Harry Morrice (6-11, 235, FR, center, United Kingdom) is the Aggies future in the post. He can score around the rim and step outside and shoot the three.
Shane Scruggs (6-7, 210, FR, forward, Lansing, Mich.) brings a big body to Aggieland. He averaged a double-double as a senior in high school. Jibril McCormick (6-6, 210, FR, forward, Charlotte, N.C.) will look to develop as he progresses through the program.
The Aggies open the season against crosstown rival UNC Greensboro at the Greensboro Coliseum on Tuesday, Nov. 5 at 7 p.m. With all the changes on the Aggies the past two seasons, Joyner and his staff have made it work. They hope it works to the point of a MEAC championship and a trip to the NCAA tournament.
“The guys on this team truly love each other. When you have guys that have a bond on and off the court, you have something special,” said Joyner. “We’re working hard every single day. What we’re trying to figure out is how to make sure our guys are still playing well in March.”