Men’s Basketball Preview: Part 2

Brant Wilkerson-New

With the basketball season quickly approaching, team previews are hitting news stands everywhere. In most of these previews, UNCW is picked somewhere in the middle of the CAA standings, just like last year; a year in which the Seahawks tied for second in the CAA, and advanced to the semifinals of the conference tournament.

“We don’t pay attention to those,’ UNCW head coach Brad Brownell said. “Polls are good in that they get people talking about basketball, but its difficult to know what teams are doing year to year. I hope we prove them wrong.”

After losing four key players, this year’s edition of the Seahawks are going to re-create their identity.

“This team has great all around depth, more than last year,” he said. “With our depth we’re going to try to push the ball more and pick up full court. Our speed and athleticism will help us do things to create turnovers.”

One player that will be heading up the re-invention is senior guard John Goldsberry. Goldsberry, a first-team All-CAA and All-Defensive-team performer will be looked to as a scorer.

“John as gotten more comfortable as a scorer, and more confident in his offense,” Brownell said.

Down the stretch, Goldsberry managed to score double figures six-out-of-ten games with many defenses game planning to stop him.

“At the end of last year, teams started to realize how good John was,” Brownell said. “Now that we have a few more weapons I think we’ll make them pay when they gear up for John.”

Fans can see the improvement of Goldsberry over the years, but it’s hard to measure leadership.

“John isn’t as vocal as I’d like, but he’s becoming that way,” Brownell said.

Goldsberry isn’t the only senior that will be looked to in the huddle, with UNCW’s leading rebounder Beckham Wyrick back in the mix, something Coach Brownell is excited about.

Wyrick missed the first five games of last season due to suspension, but immediately made an impact scoring 14 points, and grabbing 12 boards in his return.

“He’s one of the most underrated defenders in the league,” Brownell continued. “With his speed, strength, and stamina, he’s pound for pound as good as an athlete as anyone in the league,”

Flying under the radar isn’t an option anymore for Wyrick, as he’ll be looked to as a playmaker and leader for the Seahawks.

Also in the fold at guard is sophomore Daniel Fountain, who saw action in thirteen contests, but didn’t play in the final six. Fountain was known in high school for his shooting, and broke the all time scoring record at Woodbridge High School in Virginia.

“He’s better prepared than last year, it wasn’t his role to do anything. Now he’s bigger and stronger, and more confident about doing his job,” Brownell said.

Down low, the Seahawk attack will be led by senior forward Mitch Laue. Laue had a few shining moments last year, but also found himself on the bench early often.

“Mitch is one of those guys who plays hard and physical, but gets himself into foul trouble and that makes it difficult to become a primary player,” Brownell said.

Laue showed promise in a 20-point performance last season against William & Mary, on a night in which he shot 7-for-10 from the field.

“Mitch is shooting better, and we’ll look for him to step up to take and make big shots for us,” he said.

Playing at his side will be forward Dejan Grkovic, a junior from Hamilton, Ontario.

“Dejan worked harder than anyone [this offseason], working on his shooting, and without a doubt, he’ll see more time this year,” Brownell said.

Grkovic saw 10+ minutes in eight of the first eleven games, but just once in the final seventeen contests.

“He’s a good rebounder, he has good hands, and a great feel for it and now he’s more comfortable with the offense,” he said.

Another post player who will see more minutes is senior Taylor Lay, who saw his stats drop a bit last year from his sophomore campaign.

“Taylor is going to come in and provide a spark off the bench, and we’ll look for him to have some big games.” he said.

Bench scoring is going to be huge for this team, with the teams second leading scorer perhaps not starting.

“I’m still not sold that you start your five most talented players,” Brownell said. Junior guard TJ Carter put up 9.7 points per game for the Seahawks, and may continue coming into games a few minutes in.

“We’ve got to use TJ’s minutes sparingly, we’d rather have them late than early. Theres no question that TJ is a great talent,” Brownell said.

With the departure of senior Aaron Coombs, the Seahawks have a big hole at center to fill. Sophomore Vladimir Kuljanin will be looked to as the physical banger down low. Kuljanin was used sparingly last season, but showed his rebounding prowess by colleting 10 boards in 13 minutes at VCU.

The other player Brownell will use at center is sophomore Todd Hendley, a first year player who transferred from Wake Forest. Hendley, is the more athletic option for Brownell, who has wowed the Midnight Madness crowd the past two years with his acrobatic dunks. Todd is more mobile, and has the ability to play inside and out.

“He’s the opposite of Vlad, and it helps that they do different things,” Brownell said.

Size is a luxury that UNCW has been missing the past few years, and Brownell is going to use it to his advantage.

The top newcomer is John David Gardner, a freshman from Birmingham, Alabama. Gardner was known in high school for his shooting, and scored 19.1 points per game, which was good enough to be named first team all-state. He will see limited minutes early, but will be a great asset as a combo guard.

“He’s played point, he handles it well, a good shooter, and has good size,” Brownell said of his prized recruit. “He has good basketball IQ as a freshman.”

A late pick up in the recruiting class was point guard Temi Soyebo, a junior college transfer from Chicago. Soyebo led Highland CC to a 62-6 record in his tenure, including a 29 game winning streak.

“Temi has exceptional speed, and great ball pressure and a winning attitude from high school and junior college,” Brownell said. Another freshman building block for Brownell is Nate Miller, a forward from Springfield, Ohio.

“Nate is a different type of player with his size, he’s got a nose for the ball and is a finisher,” Brownell said.

Much can be said of UNCW’s recruiting success as of late, winning some recruiting wars over Mid American Conference teams in their own backyard.

“We’ve been fortunate to get three players out of Ohio, it speaks to the quality of our program and success and respect academically,” Brownell said. “We’re a good school with tradition and fan support. The message is getting out and helping recruiting.