In the third season under head coach Earl Grant, College of Charleston men’s basketball team is ready to contend for a conference title.
Last season, Charleston drew national attention thanks to an early season upset over LSU. However, injuries limited the inexperienced Cougars, with season ending injuries claiming three key players; Joe Chealey, Grant Riller and Canyon Barry. Thrusting a young core into major minutes, the Cougars finished the season with a 17-14 record, eventually losing in the quarterfinals of the conference tournament to the eventual champion, UNCW (66-64).
All five players who started down the stretch of last season are set to return, but Barry transferred to Florida for his final year of eligibility after he graduated from the College in May.
“They are young, but they got a lot of experience last year with the minutes they played,” coach Grant said. “And then we’ve got a new set of young bigs that are freshmen coming in, so our depth in the post has gotten better and the guys that played a lot last year, Nick Harris and Jarell Brantley, they’re going to be a lot more experienced as we go on through the year.”
Brantley led freshmen in the Colonial in points (11.6) and rebounds (7.2) per game last season, contributing to selection as CAA Rookie of the Year. Based on his selection to the preseason first team all-CAA, other programs in the Colonial expect to see more highlight reel material from him this season.
Brantley is joined in the front court by Harris, who led the team in blocked shots (22) as a redshirt freshman.
“I think we are a bit deeper in the post,” Grant said. “We will have to depend on some of those young guys to log minutes, like Chevez Goodwin, Ochinachi Smart and Jalen McManus to give us some help on the front line.”
Junior guard Cameron Johnson also garnered preseason acclaim, on the second team all-CAA. Johnson leads a back court of highly productive returners, as last year Peyton Hulsey was a member of the CAA all-defensive team and Marquise Pointer was honored on the CAA all-rookie team.
“We’ve been trying to rebuild this program and really move it forward and try to be competitive in the CAA,” Grant said. “I don’t think a lot of people realize how powerful our conference is.”
The CAA Men’s Basketball Championship is set to take place in the North Charleston Coliseum on March 3-6, 2017. As a conference, the CAA finished with its highest end of the year conference RPI ranking ever last year, finishing ninth out of 32 in division I men’s basketball.
Charleston was picked to finish fourth out of ten teams in the CAA preseason poll, however, the separation between one and four in the ranking is minimal, as each of the top four received first place votes; UNCW, Towson, William & Mary and Charleston.
The Cougars only preseason test will be at TD Arena on Friday (Nov. 4, 7 p.m.) against Allen University, before opening the regular season at home against crosstown rival The Citadel, on Nov. 11 (7 p.m.)
“It’s a great season for basketball in Charleston,” Grant said. “Obviously, there aren’t too many times that you can have the Charleston Classic, an ESPN tournament on your court. But then to also have the CAA tournament in March in North Charleston, that’s a great year of basketball for the city of Charleston and the Lowcountry.”