Thundering Herd is ready to rock at EKU
RICHMOND, Ky. — Jannson Williams and Dan D’Antoni are more than ready for a new season of Marshall Thundering Herd men’s basketball.
“Very ready, been ready,” said the 6-foot-9 Williams, a sophomore forward who finished the 2018 season strong during Marshall’s run to the Conference USA championship that stopped a 31-year drought of NCAA Tournament berths.
Marshall opens the 2018-19 season at 7 p.m. Wednesday against the Eastern Kentucky Colonels in McBrayer Arena.
“Always ready,” said D’Antoni, the Herd head coach in his fifth season. “I’m 71 years old, but I enjoy every game that I get a chance to stand on the sideline.”
D’Antoni said the Herd is more ready to play at the beginning of a season than it has been.
Senior guards Jon Elmore, last season’s C-USA leader in scoring (22.7 a game) and assists (6.8)
and C.J. Burks (20.5 points) made the Preseason All C-USA team. Sophomore guard Jarrod West (7.9 points) also returns to the starting lineup. Williams (5.4 points, 3.3 rebounds) and 6-7 sophomore forward Darius George (4.6 points, 3.3 rebounds) logged a lot of playing time as freshmen and made contributions to a 25-11 team.
Williams averaged 13. 3 points and 7.3 rebounds in his last four games. He runs the court and is a gifted outside shooter who wants to improve on his 49 percent overall shooting and 38 percent 3-point accuracy (27 for 70).
“I’ve worked on my shot probably the most,” Williams said. “I’ve tried to get myself more comfortable with the ball in my hands.”
Then there is big Iran Bennett, who was a freshman academic partial qualifier last season. The 6-9, 330-pound Bennett has dropped considerable pounds from a starting point of about 380, but isn’t yet in the kind of game shape D’Antoni wants. Eastern Kentucky and Marshall both play at a face pace and it might be difficult for Bennett to keep up.
“It’s going to be a real test for him,” D’Antoni said. “We’ll have to wait and see how he handles it. But we have some players ready to come in and play at that pace.”
Marshall can also go to 6-9 sophomore Mikel Beyers and 6-10 Ante Sustic for a boost in size it will need guarding EKU’s 6-9, 250-pound Nick Mayo, last year’s top scorer (18.0) and rebounder (6.7) for the Colonels.
Marshall will have defensive help on Mayo.
“We’ll have Iran take him to start off with,” Williams said. “We’ll help, but if he starts making shots then I’m taking him. He likes to get on the block, do a little move and hit a fadeaway. Just like Justin Johnson (ex-Western Kentucky forward) did.”
Marshall will begin the season with freshmen Jeremy Dillon and Cam Brooks-Harris being redshirted. Dillon is a 6-5 guard from Delbarton, West Virginia, and Brooks-Harris is a 6-6 forward hailing from Zanesville, Ohio. D’Antoni said both of them are talented enough to play now but will benefit from an extra year.
Williams was a freshman redshirt in the 2016-17 season and said it was the best year of his life.
He said Dillon and Brooks-Harris won’t understand the amazing things being redshirted does for you until the next year when they begin playing.
“It’s going to suck watching everybody play, but it’s going to do wonders,” Williams said.
After five years, Williams anticipates having an undergraduate degree and an MBA in marketing and said it’s all being paid for.
MARSHALL at EASTERN KENTUCKY
When: 7 p.m. Wednesday
Where: McBrayer Arena, Richmond, Ky.
Radio: WDGG 93.7-FM, ESPN 94.1-FM and 930-AM