LOCATION: Greensboro, NC
CONFERENCE: Mid-Eastern Athletic (MEAC)
LAST SEASON: 13-15 (.464)
CONFERENCE RECORD: 9-9 (6th)
STARTERS LOST/RETURNING: 3/2
COLORS: Navy Blue & Old Gold
HOMECOURT: Corbett Center (6,700)
COACH: Curtis Hunter (North Carolina '87)
record at school First year
career record First year
ASSISTANTS: Bill Sutton (North Carolina A&T '57)|
Adam Chaskin (Michigan '92)
TEAM WINS: (last 5 years) 15-10-15-8-13
RPI (last 5 years) 201-265-230-279-238
1998-99 FINISH: Lost in conference semifinal.
One of the pleasant surprises in the MEAC last year was the resurgence of North Carolina A&T.
The Aggies, who were the marquee team in the MEAC in the '80s, going to numerous NCAA Tournaments and dominating league play, bounced back from a disappointing 1997-98 season. North Carolina A&T finished with a respectable 13-15 record and a middle-of-the-pack 9-9 league mark. Those were all pleasant surprises after the previous year's disastrous 8-19 record.
Despite the improvement, veteran Aggie coach Roy Thomas decided it was time to retire and move to his farm in Texas.
The North Carolina A&T administration didn't wait long to select a replacement -- former North Carolina player Curtis Hunter was selected as interim head coach for the 1999-2000 season.
Hunter served as an assistant for the last two years, and was a big reason behind the Aggies' improvement last year. His recruiting efforts netted some talented players. It is generally assumed around Greensboro that as long as everything goes smoothly this year, Hunter will have the interim removed from his title next year and get an extended contract.
"This represents the chance of a lifetime," Hunter said when he got the job. "North Carolina A&T is a great university and a world-class institution steeped in the tradition of academic and athletic excellence.
"The players know me, respect me and now I'm in position to hopefully provide North Carolina A&T some stability within the men's basketball program. I want to build on a very positive base constructed by coach Thomas."
Last year may have been a big improvement from the previous year's eight-win season, but Hunter, who played on a Tar Heel club with Michael Jordan and Sam Perkins, wasn't thrilled with the record. The Aggies lost four league games by three points or less. A&T was a couple of last-second shots away from finishing in the upper division of the MEAC. It just missed going to the league championship game when the Aggies lost to top-seeded South Carolina State, 61-58, in the final moments.
"We easily could have won 18- to 20 games last year," Hunter said. "We lost a bunch of games at the buzzer. If we could have won a few of those, we could have had a really good year and maybe won the league championship.
"But we were a young team," Hunter said. "And that happens when you're young -- you lose close games. We're no longer young, and we need to start winning those games this year."
One of the big problems facing Hunter in his first season is replacing all-conference guard Jonathan Richmond. Richmond averaged 15.4 points last year and that average jumped up to 16.6 in league games. He was a go-to player his whole career at A&T, and he will be tough to replace.
The Aggies believe that 5-11 junior guard J.J. Miller (4.6 ppg, 0.8 rpg) could be the man to do just that. What made Richmond so valuable was his ability to play either the point- or the shooting-guard spot.
Miller can do the same, and though his numbers are modest, he had some good games for North Carolina A&T last season. He scored 16 points in a key win over eventual league champion Florida A&M.
"J.J. can play either guard spot and that makes him a valuable player for us this year," Hunter said. "J.J. has great quickness, and he can shoot the basketball. We need a big year from him this season, and I believe he can do it."
Another versatile backcourt player is 6-2 junior Marque Carrington (9.7 ppg, 2.4 rpg, 61 assists). Carrington averaged more than 10 points in league games, but is more of a two-guard than a point. He is the Aggies' leading returning scorer and Hunter looks for more from the Cary, N.C. native this season.
"Marque did a good job for us last year and is a player who plays with a great deal of consistency," Hunter said. "He's also our best defensive player and will lead our defensive effort. Marque will be our starting two-guard this year, but he can also play the point and he'll do that this year."
Hoping to add some depth in the backcourt will be 6-4 senior Vashon Murphy (3.9 ppg, 2.2 rpg). Murphy was a junior-college transfer last season and gave the Aggies some offense from time to time. Hunter looks for more this season.
"Vashon needs to be more consistent this season and I think he'll be able to do that," Hunter said. "He's a junior-college player who has some experience and a lot of athleticism."
Anthony Debro, a 6-5 sophomore, was redshirted last year, but he should be able to help the Aggies this season at the shooting-guard spot or small forward. He averaged 2.5 points and 1.3 rebounds two years ago.
"Anthony is a shooter who can put the ball into the basket with some consistency," Hunter said. "He's mentally tough and should be ready to help us this year."
Hunter believes he had a very good recruiting class despite being an interim coach. His prize recruit could be former Mt. Zion (Durham, N.C.) Academy standout Jeremy Ledbetter, a 6-2 junior point guard from Durham who played at Rose State College (Okla.) last season. He averaged 7.0 points and 5.0 assists and helped Rose State win 14 of its last 20 games. While at Mt. Zion, he played with current Toronto Raptors star Tracy McGrady and current North Carolina player Max Owens.
"Jeremy is a tenacious player who will push our guards for playing time," Hunter said. "He's played with great players, so he knows what good competition is all about. Jeremy makes good decisions in getting the ball to the right people at the right times. I'm looking for him to make an impact right away."
Hunter believes he might have gotten a steal when he signed 6-2 freshman shooting guard Landon Beckwith from nearby Garner (N.C.) High School. Last year, he averaged 15.0 points and 4.0 assists. He comes to North Carolina A&T with the reputation as a pure shooter.
"As a shooter, he could help us replace Jonathan Richmond," Hunter said. "I was surprised that he was available and we're sure glad we signed him. We think we might have gotten a steal with him. He's a pure shooter who understands the game and knows how to play."
The small-forward slot should be in pretty good hands, with 6-6 sophomore Bruce Jenkins (7.1 ppg, 4.8 rpg), a member of the MEAC's all-rookie team. Jenkins can play either forward spot and was second on the Aggies in blocked shots last year with 10.
"We expect big things out of Bruce this year," Hunter said. "What we like about Bruce is that he's mentally tough and can play either forward spot. He's going to keep getting better, and has a lot of potential. His best basketball is in front of him."
Competing for playing time at the small-forward spot will be 6-6 junior Tarrell Robinson (4.9 ppg, 3.1 rpg). Hunter hopes Robinson can improve those numbers this year.
"We need Tarrell to have a good year this season, " Hunter said. "He's part of the junior class and has some experience, so he should be ready to help us. Tarrell's a tough defensive player, and we like that, but we need him to hit the 10- to 15-footer on a more consistent basis for us this year."
Also expected to compete for playing time at small forward is 6-5 freshman Aaron Taylor. Taylor comes to Greensboro from Harrisburg (Pa.) High School, and last season he averaged 18.0 points and earned all-state honors. He comes from a good bloodline -- his father Willie Taylor played wide receiver at Pittsburgh in the mid-'70s and was on the Panthers' national championship team in 1976.
Hunter thinks the Pennsylvania native is a player who will help the Aggies down the road.
"Aaron's best basketball is in front of him, but he has the potential to be a very good player for us," Hunter said. "He's played with big-time players during his career, and he knows the game, as well. Aaron will work hard and how he learns will determine how much playing time he'll have this season."
The Aggies have some experience back inside as 6-5 senior power forward Kelvin Clyburn (3.5 ppg, 3.5 rpg) returns for his last season. Hunter expects Clyburn, one of two Aggie seniors, to produce in the upcoming year.
"We expect big things from Kelvin Clyburn this year," Hunter said. "He's our best post player returning, and as one of our two seniors, I expect him to have a good season. K.C. is a real key for us this year. If he can produce, we can have a good season."
The center position should be a wide-open battle between two 6-8 sophomores and a freshman from that hotbed of basketball, Guinea. Jafar Taalib (2.5 ppg, 1.9 rpg) and Travis Totten (1.9 ppg, 1.8 rpg) are the sophomores, and both spent a lot of time learning the college game last year, producing similar numbers. Hunter is anxious to see progress from his twin towers this year.
"Jafar and Travis are still young and still learning the game," Hunter said. "Both have worked hard in the off-season and should be better this year. We need both of them to be more aggressive and get some rebounds for us this season."
Both will be pushed by 6-10 freshman center Abraham Traore, who played at Redemption Christian Academy in New York. The Guinea native has only played one year of organized basketball, and that was last season. He seemed to pick the game up quickly as he averaged 12.0 points and 6.0 rebounds as a part-time starter. Traore will push for playing time, but Hunter believes it will take him some time to develop. If and when he does, he could give A&T a huge boost in a league where true post players are scarce.
"Abraham is another player of the future for us," Hunter said. "He's still raw because he only played one year, but he's got size, likes to play physical, can block shots, rebound and clog up the middle. No question he can help us."
Blue Ribbon Analysis
BACKCOURT B- BENCH/DEPTH D|
FRONTCOURT D+ INTANGIBLES C-
This could be a tough year for Curtis Hunter in his first season as head coach of the Aggies. It will be very hard to replace a player like Jonathan Richmond, who was the heart and soul of the North Carolina A&T squad the last few years.
The new A&T coach was disappointed about all the close losses last year, but the Aggies won a few close games, as well. Richmond played a big part in many of those wins.
The Aggies will probabaly take a step backward this year and fall to eighth or ninth place. The inside game is a huge question mark, and the backcourt is average at best. Hunter needs another solid recruiting year to get this program headed back where it once was.
It will also be interesting to see how Hunter, with no head coaching experience, handles being the lead guy.
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