MEC basketball: Poore, State men ready to move forward
CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Last season came to an abrupt end for the West Virginia State University men's basketball team.
The 2012-13 season, plagued by injury and attitude, ended in the first round of the final West Virginia Conference Tournament at the University of Charleston.
"We couldn't strive for one common goal," said State Coach Bryan Poore, who enters his 14th season in charge of the program. "In short, we had the worst team chemistry that I have ever had in my twenty-some years of coaching at all levels - all the way back to junior high."
After back-to-back losses to UC to close the season, Poore sent a message to his struggling team in the form of the 2013-14 roster.
State opens its season on Nov. 20 in Fleming Hall against Bluefield State with 11 fresh faces.
"We made some changes," he said. "Some of the guys who were eligible to return and play again were not invited back."
State had three graduating seniors, but returns only four players from a 14-man roster.
"Some people might have thought it was a difficult decision," Poore said, "but it was easy for me because I pulled out all the stops and it just didn't work."
Returning for Poore's team is leading scorer Anton Hutchins, who averaged 15.5 points as a junior.
"To do what we do, we need the balance he brings to be able to score 85-90 points a night," Poore said.
Juan Johnson, Kendrick Ward and former Woodrow Wilson High School jumping jack Stephen Thompson also return. The three veterans - two seniors and a sophomore respectively - combined for 15 points per game and averaged 20 minutes of playing time.
But even the old guard will have to adjust to a new system. Or, rather, they will have to adjust to Poore's true style.
"I changed my style the last two years to give us a chance to win," Poore said.
But the days of a slow-paced, eight-man rotation are over.
"In our system we need to play at least nine guys and really would like to play 10 or 11," Poore said, "Because to play up-tempo and press and run the way that I've always done here, we need nine or 10 guys to rotate in and out.
"We have the depth this year to play press and run with this team," he said.
A slew of newcomers - transfers and freshmen - will compete to be in the rotation of 10 for the Yellow Jackets.
Tyrie Elliot and Travaughn Newell were recruited from different high schools in Washington, D.C., and, as partial qualifiers, will be redshirted this year.
Bo King will sit out the first semester and return for his final semester of eligibility. The former Charleston Catholic High School star - who was the Daily Mail's 2007 Kanawha Valley Player of the Year - will be a significant backcourt piece for the final 21 regular season games.
King hasn't played college basketball since the 2010-11 season when he averaged 14.5 points, 5.1 rebounds and 3.6 assists for State, helping the Yellow Jackets finish 20-10 and as the regular season and tournament runners-up. His value is palpable, considering State is 24-32 since then.
Ravenswood's Benjamin Pannell will get his first shot at playing time after sitting out last season as a redshirt. During his senior season at Ravenswood, he averaged 18 points, 12 rebounds and three assists per game.
Nitro's Angelo Sirianni will make his collegiate debut this year after a stellar senior season. Sirianni, who Poore said might be the team's best athlete, finished as the second-leading scorer in Kanawha County with 21 points per game.
Dominic Phillips, a 5-foot-11 point guard from Virginia, is the lead candidate to be State's floor general.
"In (the Mountain East) you have to have good guard play," Poore said, "Dominic is still learning the system, but we think he is going to be really good for us."
Dimitrios Jelen-Joy, a 6-2 junior combo guard from Maryland, will be called on to stretch defenses.
"He can make shots and is a very smart player," Poore said.
Reuben Berry is a 6-7 junior center who fits with State.
"He's very athletic and bouncy and is going to do well in our up-and-down system," Poore said, "He can guard multiple positions."
Steve Wing came in with Philips. The 6-5, 225-pound junior will find his role at a forward spot.
Jamahl Brown, a senior transfer from Texas A&M-Kingsville, will provide some much-needed firepower for the Yellow Jackets.
"He can just score the ball in bunches," Poore said, "In high school he averaged 35 a game."
Terry Wood is a 6-8 freshmen from Mount Zion Prep.
"He's a grown man now," Poore said. "He is going to be a nice post player for us that can shoot the ball outside."
Anthony Grant, a 6-6 junior walk-on, will see time at center.
"He's a tough hard-nosed kid that plays hard and can defend inside," Poore said.
Overall, Poore is optimistic his program can leave last season's 10-19 finish in the past.
"I really like the makeup of out team. We've got the right pieces," Poore said, "We've got some athletes but we also have some basketball players. The guys are getting along. We've got pretty good team chemistry."