McGrath, Seahawks focused on what’s next, not what came before

First game of the C.B. McGrath era is set for Nov. 11


Joe Browning/UNCW Athletic Communications

Devontae Cacok, right, participates in drills while UNCW men’s basketball coach C.B. McGrath, left, gives directions during a preseason practice.

A new era of UNC Wilmington men’s basketball has arrived, but the enthusiasm around the two-time defending Colonial Athletic Association champion remains upbeat.

Much has changed around the program since falling to Virginia in the opening round of last year’s NCAA Tournament, particularly new head coach C.B. McGrath’s different approach to the up-tempo style played under former coach Kevin Keatts.

“We want to get on the court and make it an open-court game. In the half court, yes, we want to use the big guys,” said McGrath. “They’ve been doing a nice job, very coachable. They’ve taken everything we’ve given them in the time we’ve had so far.”

Instead of playing four guards around junior forward Devontae Cacok, the Seahawks will utilize a more traditional five-man unit with the insertion of another forward. On the first day of practice, forward Marcus Bryan lined up next to Cacok with guards Jaylen Fornes, JaQuel Richmond, and Jordon Talley in the five-man drills.

There’s less than a month until the Seahawks open the season against North Carolina Wesleyan on Nov. 11, but this lineup is one of the more experienced lineups McGrath could trot out at the beginning. This group has appeared in 269 games, including 92 starts, for the Seahawks in previous years.

Entering his senior year, Talley is responsible for 37 of those starts, but none came last year after he started the season suspended for conduct determinable to the team. He has seen his averages in points, minutes, and steals dip each year.

The McGrath hire gives Talley a fresh opportunity with the Seahawks.

“There’s a lot to do, a lot to take care of. From day one, you could tell that (McGrath) is a great person,” said Talley. “Spending time with him on the court, he’s a great coach as well. I can tell that from the little time we’ve had together.”

The fast-paced style will continue to allow UNCW to score points at or near the top of the conference once again. Last year, the Seahawks led the CAA with 84.4 points per game.

At the center of the Seahawks quest for its third-straight CAA title will be Cacok. He was last year’s CAA Defensive Player of the Year after leading the conference in blocked shots (46) and finishing third in defensive rebounds with 6.4 per game. UNCW will rely on Cacok to be a leader on and off the court this year.

Off the court, people in the UNCW community have kept a close watch on the first months of the McGrath era. The success under Keatts brought passionate fans back to UNCW basketball, something that McGrath looks to build and expand upon.

Upon arrival, McGrath knew he would have to replace several starters. Last year’s starters Chris Flemmings (career average of 16 ppg), Denzel Ingram (37 percent career three-point percentage), and Ambrose Mosley (41 percent three-point percentage) all graduated while another starter, C.J. Bryce (First-Team All-CAA), joined Keatts at North Carolina State.

Then all five-incoming freshman de-committed from the program.

This gave McGrath an opportunity to reshape the roster to fit his style. He brought in two freshmen, Jeffrey Gary and Jay Estime, to round out the roster and he signed four transfers students: Jacque Brown, Daniel Etoroma, Trey Kalina, and Jeantal Cylla.

The Seahawks will welcome guard Ty Taylor, who sat out last year after transferring from Wichita State. Taylor appeared in 20 games for the 2015-16 Shockers, who reached the second round of the NCAA Tournament.

Taylor said he’s eager to resume his college basketball career at UNCW.

“I think I could be a really big leader and contributor to this team,” said Taylor. “I’m a scoring guard, so hopefully I can bring that this year and add a defensive presence.”

The schedule is another area where McGrath’s fingerprints are found. Every contract the Seahawks had with non-conference opponents expired in the offseason, so it fell on McGrath to fill out the schedule. UNCW will face 12 non-conference opponents but will play at home in Trask Coliseum just four times in the first two months.

All of this will happen before the Seahawks can focus on defending their CAA title when conference play opens on Dec. 30 against Delaware. UNCW is not the preseason favorite to win the CAA – it was picked to finish sixth in the league. The top honor was bestowed upon College of Charleston, per the Blue Ribbon College Basketball Yearbook.

With so much to accomplish (McGrath likes to remind people his record is still 0-0), it is simple to label this season a rebuilding, refocusing, and developmental year. However, nothing that has happened with this program since March has been simple. It appears that will be the norm in the months ahead.

“We know the talent we got on this team,” said Talley. “Despite our losses, we still know the talent level we have on the team right now; we just have to bring it together. If we bring it together, it’s going to be scary.”