By BOB REDD
Bluefield Daily Telegraph
A year ago Jamaal Jackson was named interim head basketball coach at Bluefield State College days before preseason practice began. Things are a bit different a year later.
The interim tag has been removed, Jackson is the head coach, and he has had the opportunity to recruit players and implement his off-season conditioning program for the Big Blues.
Baptized by fire last season, Jackson’s Big Blues struggled through a 1-27 record with a roster that on many nights consisted of seven, maybe eight players. Again, this year things are different as 14 men are on Bluefield State’s roster.
Last year’s leading scorer Chase Morgan and Alex Webb, both from Wyoming East High School, are no longer with the program, but Jackson is not worried as he has several returning players with potential and a bevy of incoming hoopsters who he thinks will help turn around the Bluefield State program.
“Our returners are Johnny Uhegwu, Daven Morris, Vincent Rogers, Malik Edwards and Roy Cooper, who won’t play until the second semester,” Jackson said. “Vincent is a 6-6 power forward who will be playing the four for us. He is a very active shooter from outside. Johnny is a combo guard. He can create his own shot and crate scores for others.
“Daven Morris is probably one of our best defensive players. Malik is our big man who is solid shot blocker, and Roy can shoot it, get to the basket. He had 27 (points) up at Wheeling Jesuit.”
Freshmen and junior college players will round out the BSC team in 2012-13.
“I’ve got a lot of JUCO guys, a lot of transfers,” Jackson noted. “I have three freshmen this semester. Ryan Braxton is a point guard coming off an Achilles injury he suffered last April, but he’s quick, athletic and he’s going to push for a lot of minutes once he gets healthy.
“Robert Lennon is from Hattiesburg, Miss. He does everything that’s asked of him, and Avery Holliday is a strong wing from Burlington, New Jersey. He’s energetic and brings a lot of energy on the defensive end. On the offensive end he can also create his own shot.”
Junior college players joining the team this year include a trio that played at Wytheville Community College, Antonio Bryant, Treon Claiborne and Remar Brothers, all guards. Gary Martin comes in from Brown Mackie College, Christian Jugah at 6’9” is from Lincoln Trail College and 6-9 Samuel Ouedraogo last played at Daemen College.
While it is has been somewhat difficult for coaches in the past to recruit and retain players, in part due to the fact there are no housing facilities at Bluefield State, and the program has struggled for wins, Jackson said players he recruited he told the them the facts.
“The biggest thing, when I was recruiting them, I told them it’s a program that hasn’t done much in a couple of decades and if they want to be a part of something special, to come in, and turn the program around, it would definitely be a place for them,” Jackson said. “I told them no starting spots are promised, it’s going to be competitive. We are deep.
“If they want to come in and make history, it would definitely be a place for them, so that’s why a lot of them are here.”
Depth was a problem for the Big Blues in the 2011-12 season. Jackson, however, believes that with the added numbers, he will be able to implement his style of basketball and it will hopefully translate to added success.
“We want to get up and down (the court),” Jackson said. “I tried it last year and it didn’t work out, but we will definitely do the same thing this year. We averaged 75 points per game last year, which was a lot, but we lost gas playing with seven, or eight guys. We definitely won’t lose gas this year, not just because of the depth, but our off-season and preseason conditioning.
“Our preseason conditioning is one of the toughest, I am sure, in the conference. We will be in shape and I’ll be able to shuffle in and shuffle out bodies, and I can go with a number of different combinations.”
In what could be the final year of the West Virginia Intercollegiate Athletic Conference, Bluefield State plays the usual lineup of WVIAC teams including its oldest rival, West Virginia State and its Mercer County rival, Concord, both of whom have announced plans to join the Mountain East Conference in 2013.
Bluefield State is the lone school from the current WVIAC that has not announced its conference affiliation for the next school year.
Bluefield State takes to the court Saturday against NCAA Division I UNC Greensboro in an exhibition game.
“They are the preseason top-ranked team in the Southern Conference so that is definitely going to be a tough match up for us, but we’re up for it,” Jackson said. “To be the best you’ve got to play the best, so that will definitely help to prepare us. We’re going in there to fight and try to pull out a victory.”
The Big Blues have two other exhibitions, Nov. 5 at WVU Tech and Nov. 7 at Bluefield College. Regular season play opens with a conference game at Pitt-Johnstown on Nov. 20.
The first home games will be Nov. 23-24 in the Currence Classic. The Big Blues will face Lander on Nov. 23 and Chowan on Nov. 24.