Men’s basketball embraces underdog role for upcoming season

McLeod Brown | Sports Editor

The UNC Wilmington men’s basketball team had a long, tumultuous offseason.

The dominos started to fall when the team was banned from postseason play for the 2012-2013 season due to low Academic Progress Rate scores.

Due to the punishment, three key contributors from last year’s squad decided to take their talents elsewhere. Additionally, the Seahawks’ recruiting pool shrank.

After finishing with a 9-20 mark last season, along with the fallout from this year’s postseason ban, not much is expected of the team this year.

And that’s the way they like it.

“It’s not fair, but that’s how it is,” said Coach Buzz Peterson. “We have to make the best we can out of this regular season. That’s 30 games that we can play, so we’re looking forward to every one of those. Every game is a do-or-die situation for us. I want everybody to have a chip on their shoulder. You play with a chip out there, and let’s make the most out of it.”

In the annual preseason poll, UNCW was predicted to finish dead last in the conference by the CAA coaches, media and school media relations directors.

“I feel like we will be very good,” said graduate student and transfer Tyree Graham when told of the prediction. “I am offended by being picked to finish last in the conference, but at the same time, I’m ready to show the CAA and the whole country that we will be respected in Wilmington.”

Graham is one of the many new faces on the team that has the players and coaches believing they can surprise people this year.

The Seahawks welcome five new players this season, along with four players that redshirted last year. All that new talent has been breeding confidence from within that this is a team that can compete.

“They’re going to add a lot,” said senior forward Keith Rendleman. “Even though they sat out last year, they still have enough experience under them to make an impact. You got big men coming in that will help us with scoring and rebounding. You got the guards that were missing last year that are also going to help a lot. Everyone is just going to bring their individual skillset which will help us better as a team.”

However, when the game is on the line, the Seahawks will undoubtedly turn to their Preseason First-Team All-CAA performer Rendleman.

Rendleman returns for his senior year after leading the team in scoring (15.3 ppg) and rebounding (10.0 rpg) last year. He achieved First Team All-CAA honors last year after becoming one of the CAA’s premier players, almost always fighting through double teams as he became the Seahawks’ only constant of production.

After the NCAA handed down the postseason ban, there was much speculation in Wilmington that Rendleman might decide to redshirt or even transfer to a school where he would have the opportunity to go after a national championship.

Nevertheless, the cool-headed senior chose to stick his last year out with the teammates he’s grown to know over the years, something they want to repay him for.

“My goal for Keith is to help this team win as much as we can,” said sophomore forward Cedrick Williams. “I want to push him to the NBA Draft. That’s the ultimate goal right now because he made such a big decision for us.”

In order for the team to be successful as a whole in the grueling CAA, however, Peterson knows they will need effectiveness from someone other than Rendleman.

“It’s a challenging schedule,” he said. “I think we have to stay together, stay focused together. There’s more of a team concept, team unity with this bunch. I can tell that early. There’s going to be some tough games in there. Other guys are going to have to step it up besides Keith. We’re going to have to make some shots from outside to open things up for him.”

That will all start from the point guard position, an area that seemed to be in constant flux for the Seahawks last year, when they never truly established a full-time floor general. This year, a redshirt freshman and a transfer will look to change that.

“The one key thing is I’m a big believer in the point guard spot,” Peterson said. “We have two guys back there that will play a lot and have done a very good job in the preseason in (Craig) Ponder and (Chris) Dixon. A lot of times the offense breaks down and you have to have someone who can break a defense, get by them, and the two guys there can really do that.”

All in all, the Seahawks could be in a much better place than they are in. However, their motto this season will be to play with no regrets. Even though they can’t reach the postseason, that won’t stop them from achieving the goals they can obtain.

“Even though we can’t go to the postseason, we can still go win us a conference championship,” Rendleman said. “If you come out on top, you can still go around and say you were the best that year. Just to hang another banner that would be great also. That’s something I’m looking forward to.”

And the opportunity to compete is all the motivation the Seahawks need.

“We’re all competitors,” Williams said. “We don’t need motivation to play basketball. We love the game. So what if we play postseason or not? We’re going to come in as if we’re playing in the Final Four.”

The Seahawks open up play with an exhibition game Saturday, Nov. 3 at Trask Coliseum against North Carolina Wesleyan at 2 p.m.