Johnson C. Smith’s Golden Bulls will have to grow up quickly to compete in the CIAA’s South Division, their coach says.
With six freshmen and a junior college transfer on the roster, the Golden Bulls, who were picked fourth in the division by league coaches, will be younger than last season’s basketball squad, which finished 18-12.
“They’re going to have to grow up very, very quickly,” said J.C. Smith coach Steve Joyner, who is 17 wins shy of 500 for his career. “Certainly change is good and it brings certain hurdles and obstacles we’re going to have to get over.
“Game experience is going to be very important to us this year. The more experience we can get them before the season and after we get into the season is going to be very important to us.”
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Livingstone, which won its first CIAA tournament title last season, was picked first in the South, followed by Winston-Salem State and Fayetteville State.
“The expectations make it a little more difficult, but having this opportunity with our kids to see some success, they understand now what it takes to play at that level,” Livingstone coach James Stinson said. “We’re just trying to make sure everybody is acclimated, even our young guys coming in.”
Livingstone, which went 21-8, lost the league’s best backcourt in Mark Thomas and Jody Hill. The Bears will be hard-pressed to replace their combined 40.1 points per game and leadership. That means the frontcourt of Eric Dubose (7.7 ppg last year) and Eric Mayo (9.7 ppg) will have to step up.
“It’s not going to be easier,” Stinson said. “It’s still going to be competition and we’re going to have to take it kicking and hollering, but we’re going to try to get it done with some of our experienced guys.
J.C. Smith’s All-CIAA forward Emilio Parks, who averaged 18.2 points and 7.2 rebounds, per game last season, is the Golden Bulls’ only returning starter. The Golden Bulls’ attack starts with the 6-foot-6, 240-pound senior as the top scoring option.
“He’s going to be the focal point of what we do,” Joyner said. “It’s going to be known to everybody when we come in their gym or they come to ours. We’re going to have to prepare for that and hopefully get him enough help that nobody can just clamp down on him and close him out.”
J.C. Smith will need immediate contributions from 6-2 shooting guard Joshua Linson (4.2 ppg, 37.8 percent on 3-pointers last year) and 6-9, 210 center Alandre Davis (3.6 ppg), both of whom were key contributors late last season. A key newcomer is Stedmon Lemon, a 6-6, 190-pound transfer from South Georgia Tech who averaged 13.9 points last season and offers flexibility at a couple of positions.
“We’re going to try to make some lemonade,” Joyner said. “Certainly he can play the (shooting) guard or (small forward). He has outstanding offensive ability and a very enthusiastic young man, (which) I think is going to help him tremendously.”