Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

November 5, 2013

Concord getting better on eve of first Mountain East hoops season

By TOM BONE
Bluefield Daily Telegraph

ATHENS — Five returnees and a bumper crop of new players has Concord men’s basketball coach Kent McBride excited about starting his third season in charge of the Mountain Lions.

“We’re going in the right direction,” the former CU point guard said. “We thought it could be faster than it was; we thought the culture could get where we wanted, overnight. It just couldn’t.”

“We’re really excited about this group, about where we are and the direction we’re heading. ... We’ve got to gradually get better, but we are.”

Their first test is this Friday and Saturday in Winston-Salem, N.C. at the Big House Gaines Tip Off Classic hosted by Winston-Salem State.

Mike Boyd, Paul Byrd, Nick Moyer and Cam Shannon, veterans of last year’s 16-11 season, are back, and Alex McGlothin has worked his way back from ACL surgery.

McBride said all five were “major contributors” and that they have helped orient the new Mountain Lions.

“That really helped with the new guys coming in, adapting (them) to what we expect of our guys, how we expect them to act away from basketball, and what we expect out of the basketball side,” the coach said.

“Having those five character kids returning, not to mention their basketball ability, has been very beneficial for us.”

Boyd has stepped into a leadership role. He started all 27 games last season and led CU with 4.5 assists per game while also averaging 11.6 points, 2.8 rebounds and 1.3 steals. He shot 41.3 percent from the field.

“It seems like he’s been there forever, and he’s still got two years left,” McBride said about Boyd. “He’s a guy that you can rely on every day. The beautiful part about it is, I don’t have to coach him. He knows what we expect. He knows what we want to accomplish.”

“He has put a ton of work in the off-season. He’s a different player,” McBride said. “He has done a phenomenal job of stepping into a leadership role in his third year. His teammates know what is expected — and a lot of it comes from his mouth.”

The other returnees are “everyday guys,” McBride said. “Academically, they’re top of the line. Athletically, they get a lot done.”

“They are phenomenal building blocks when you bring in new players. I know what I get from them every day. They know what to expect from me, every day. The speed of our growth is going to be a testament to those guys.”

“As coaches, we can say what we want, but the biggest pressure a kid has is peer pressure. So when they see a teammate doing it right, they just understand that that’s the way we do things.”

“That’s what I’m in debt to those guys (for). They set an example with their peers of how things are done. It makes my job a lot easier.”

Among the newcomers are two junior college players, Terry Hopewell from Columbus, Ohio, and A.J. Williams, who transferred from Wytheville (Va.) Community College. B.J. Hamlet played last season at Massanutten Military Academy in Woodstock, Va.

Williams ranked 15th in the National Junior College Athletic Association in scoring a season ago at 20.1 points per game, hitting 56 percent of his shots while pulling down five rebounds per game.

Forward Jalen Camper is “a constant-effort guy who picks up on things quickly,” McBride said. Grant Dickinson, at 6-foot-9, “when it’s all said and done, will be a very good player in this program,” the coach predicted.

The freshman class includes guards Ali Barnes, Aaron Miller, and Dereck Weiford, and forward Nathan Moats.

Taylor Smith, a graduate of Wyoming East High School, joins the Athens-based program after a year at Randolph College.

McBride expects to need lots of bodies this year. “With the way we want to play, with the up-tempo style that we started with last year ... you need a lot of bodies. We have a lot of good players,” he said.

“They’re making a change, in the NCAA, on how they’re calling games. So now depth is going to be even more of a factor. They’re tightening up, and basically there are going to be a lot more fouls called, so depth is going to come into play.”

He said that in recruiting the new players, “We didn’t go after a number. We went after the right players. And we’re very excited about this group.”

“Our younger class, they’ve already matured — They handle themselves like upperclassmen. They came in and they’ve matured themselves. Using the old line, they fit in before they stood out. That’s what they needed to do.”

The opening two non-conference games will provide a test. McBride said that Fayetteville State, from the Central Intercollegiate Athletic Conference, “returns the bulk of their lineup, and you’re playing Winston-Salem State the following night. They’ve been to the national tournament for years; they’re nationally ranked.”

“We said, all right, it’s time for us to see where we stand in the region, and that’s what we’re going to do. ... It’s going to be a very hostile environment against a very good team.”

“Ultimately, our goals are to win the MEC (Mountain East Conference), but we wanted to challenge ourselves early. That’s why we did it.”

The new MEC circuit includes a number of teams that made the West Virginia Conference “always very strong in men’s basketball, and that’s going to continue,” McBride said.

Some of the elite teams such as Alderson-Broaddus College have moved to another conference, McBride said, “but you bring in Notre Dame and Urbana in Ohio. They are just now starting to make moves to be very prominent in college athletics.

“Now they’re in a very good quality league which both of them have been searching for, for some time. Those programs will definitely continue to improve.”

He added, “You’re probably not going to see a better facility in our conference collectively than what UVa-Wise.”

“The strength in the basketball side, it doesn’t get any easier.”

Concord was picked fourth in the Mountain East in Monday’s preseason coaches’ poll. McBride said, “Preseason rankings are what they are. We were in the bottom half my first two years and now we’re tied for fourth.”

The Wyoming County native has back-to-back winning seasons and a 33-23 career coaching record in his first two years.

Concord’s home opener is Nov. 18 at the Carter Center against neighbor Bluefield State.

“It’s always a high-intensity game. Records really don’t matter,” McBride said. “Those are always very good games for our fan base and for our guys. They understand the importance of that game.”

“Coach (Jamaal) Jackson’s done a good job over there,” he said about his BSC counterpart. “One thing I hate is that they’re not in the new conference with us, because you lose that rivalry in-league, even though we’re going to continue to play each other.”

The first men’s basketball MEC game in Athens is Nov. 23, playing Notre Dame College. Prior to the game, the court at the Carter Center will officially be named Cox / Christie Court in honor of former Concord coaches Steve Cox and Don Christie.

— Contact Tom Bone at

tbone@bdtonline.com