Seasoned Pacers ready to be leaders
The days of forced leadership are no longer a necessity for the USC Aiken men’s basketball team.
Head coach Mark Vanderslice now has the type of veterans, both starters and role players, to provide the necessary leadership and take more ownership of the program.
Add in a diverse group of newcomers, and Vanderslice has plenty to be excited about.
It starts with those veterans, led by preseason all-conference selection Doniel Dean and fellow returning starters Faison Brock and Rob Hill. The Pacers, 16-12 a year ago, were picked fourth in the Peach Belt Conference preseason poll behind league favorite UNC Pembroke, Clayton State and Augusta.
“We’ve got some good pieces that are coming back, with some additions. We finally have some guys from our first recruiting class that are now deemed upperclassmen,” said Vanderslice. ”... They’ve had two years of seasoned experience under their belt. And now that they’re battle-tested, I think from a leadership standpoint, from a productivity standpoint, they can kind of take more of a greater role with our team.”
Dean, a 6-foot-1 senior guard, averaged 16.9 points per game last year to lead the team and was first team All-PBC. Brock, a do-everything 6-6 junior forward, shot 50 percent from the floor and was the team’s No. 2 rebounder behind Hill, a junior 6-10 center who has established himself as one of the best big men in the region.
Joining the returning Pacers are seven newcomers – four freshmen and three transfers, most of which are expected to contribute this year.
Two of the transfers – guards Xzavier Barmore and Ty’lik Evans – should produce right away while Damontez Oliver redshirts. Barmore is a junior point guard who’s played at Liberty and the College of Central Florida, so he’s going to have to learn what Vanderslice expects out of a point guard in USCA’s system. Evans and Dean are former junior college teammates, so Vanderslice knows they already have chemistry, and the speedy 5-8 senior will be counted on to pack a scoring punch from day one.
Vanderslice plans on immediate impact from his freshmen, too, particularly 6-7 forward Shaquan Jules, 6-5 forward Myles Washington and 5-9 guard Eric Kinloch.
Freshman guard Melvin McKie, a standout at South Aiken who was a finalist last year for Aiken Standard Player of the Year, has shown Vanderslice more than just his work habits on the court – it’s his ability to listen and learn that will be a major aid to his development.
“He’s coachable, he listens, he wants to grow, he wants to compete with some of the upperclassmen that have been here and had battle-tested minutes,” Vanderslice said. “He knows he doesn’t have all the answers, and I think because of that it’s going to put him in a position to grow and get stronger and mature as a player over the course of the year.”
The schedule is much to Vanderslice’s liking, with six non-conference home games and seven of the first eight overall being played at the Convocation Center.
The PBC schedule is still the same double round robin from last year, and it starts on Nov. 28 against Georgia College.
One major difference on the schedule, however, is right at the start. For the first time in three years, the Pacers are in a region challenge and have two extra games – home ones, at that – in the non-conference. Vanderslice felt that their production was hindered by not playing in a region challenge, and this weekend’s PBC vs. South Atlantic Conference games will be a major bonus in the long run.
Up first is the season opener against Tusculum, scheduled for 5:30 p.m. Friday. The following day brings a highly-anticipated 3:30 p.m. tipoff against third-ranked Lincoln Memorial, which Vanderslice feels will be a good gauge for where the Pacers stand.
“That region challenge game is gonna be good for us to prepare even for our early conference games,” he said. “We play three or four conference games before even Christmas break, and it might even be five. Those two extra non-conference games are really gonna give us some minutes under our belt to be prepared for those guys.”