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Returning for his second year at the head of the program, Men’s Basketball Head coach Mike Jones and his Highlander squad look to improve greatly on the foundation laid last season. While six wins might be disappointing to some, Jones called it a great accomplishment and a big step forward in terms of how his team wants to play.
Jones is no stranger to success at the collegiate level. As an assistant under Head Coach Shaka Smart at Virginia Commonwealth University (VCU), Jones helped the Rams to two consecutive Colonial Athletic Association (CAA) championship appearances (’10-’11) and a “Cinderella Story” Final Four run during the 2011 NCAA Tournament that remains one of the most impressive underdog stories in the history of modern sports.
One thing VCU had was experience; something the Highs are currently lacking, but are sure to gain early in the season. With seven freshmen and four sophomores, youth seems to be the focal point of this year’s squad. Sophomore guards R.J. Price and Javonte Green both had impressive rookie seasons, both being named to the Big South All-Freshman team. Price and Green are locked in as starters for this season, though, and will be expected to lead both vocally and by example. Junior guard Allen Dickerson and senior guard Blake Smith are the only upperclassmen on the team this year; neither started a game last year, although Smith received significant playing time and started 40 total games throughout his freshman and sophomore season.
Price led the team last year in multiple statistical categories averaging 11.2 points and 3.7 assists per game while Green sat atop the team and all Big South freshmen with 6.7 rebounds per game to go along with 10.2 points per game.
Turnovers were a major problem for the Highs last season, as they averaged 13.9 to just 10.8 assists per game; a result of inexperience, something both starting guards now have.
Jones was all smiles when asked about his young team. Although all coaches like to have a team with experience, Jones looked at the situation as a gift.
“I’m excited about it because I think that once we can institute our system and our style, that down the road they’ll be able to teach the new guys coming in exactly how it’s done,” Jones said.
In the first weeks of practice the two upperclassmen, Smith and Dickerson, began to show their maturity by setting examples both on and off the hardwood.
“We can’t do it all the time as coaches, the players have to [set examples for younger players],” Jones explained.
The Highs do not have any returning post players, but the freshmen show determination and promise. Tall 6’8 freshman forward Kion Brown holds an advantage over the other big players with two years of playing experience at Fork Union Military Academy. Brown played for future Hall of Famer Fletcher Arritt at FUMA where he had to adapt to a high level of maturity off the court and an extreme level of intensity on the court; something most freshman haven’t fully experienced yet.
Radford didn’t get very much production from the post last season but Brown poses a threat down low being able to score with his back to the basket. With fan-favorite forward Johnathan Edwards now graduated from RU, Brown could become the Highlanders’ next go-to option in the paint. Jones said Brown could potentially become the best scorer on the team from the low post.
Jones and the Highlanders open their season on the road on Friday, Nov. 9 at Wake Forest University and come home Monday, Nov. 12 to take on Cincinnati Christian University at the Dedmon Center for their home opener.