A preview of the A&T men's basketball team, which will open its season on Tuesday night.
N.C. A&T Aggies
Jay Joyner, 47-62 (.431) in three-plus seasons at A&T, 30-26 (.536) in MEAC.
19-13 overall, 13-3 MEAC; lost in semifinals of MEAC Tournament.
G Qua Copeland (9.1 points, 1.9 assists); G Terry Harris (8.1 points, 41.1 percent 3FG); G Milik Gantz (8.8 points, 51.1 percent FG, 1.3 steals); C Ibrahim Sylla (8.2 points, 5.3 rebounds, 1.6 blocks); G Amari Hamilton (6.8 points, 39.3 percent 3FG).
Junior G Kameron Langley (7.1 points, 6.5 assists, 1.5 steals); senior F Ron Jackson (7.5 points, 4.6 rebounds); sophomore F Ty Lyons (3.8 points, 1.8 rebounds); senior G Andre Jackson (3.1 points).
Senior F Devin Haygood (6.6 points, 4.5 rebounds in 31 games in final season at Youngstown State); Junior G Kwe Parker (1.0 point, 0.9 assist in 8.1 minutes in only season at Tennessee; high school star at High Point’s Wesleyan); Junior G Tyler Maye (1.4 points in one season at Virginia Commonwealth, 11.4 points last season at Southeastern Community College); Freshman G Fred Cleveland (21.0 points, 6.0 assists at Chicago’s Lea Catholic High); Freshman C Harry Morrice (6-foot-11 big man from Scotland played at West Virginia’s Beckley Prep).
Joyner begins his fourth full season at A&T after taking over for his college coach, Cy Alexander, in January 2016. The program has evolved since then, suffering through a 3-29 season his first full year to one of the biggest one-year turnarounds in NCAA history with a 20-15 second season. Last year’s 19-win team went 13-3 in conference games and finished second in the MEAC, then lost in the conference tournament semifinals for the second consecutive season.
Joyner needed veterans after the 3-29 season, and each of the last two years the Aggies got significant contributions from players who transferred in for only one season. But he also added key recruits to develop, and the Aggies have built around talented point guard Kam Langley, who is back for a third season as the starter. A&T has just three seniors on the roster. Tranfers Devin Haygood, Kwe Parker and Tyler Maye figure to make an immediate impact, but of that trio only Haygood is in his final season of eligibility.
Five big games
At UNCG (Nov. 5), at UTEP (Dec. 16), at Wake Forest (Dec. 21), Bethune-Cookman (Jan. 25), N.C. Central (Feb. 17). Bonus: at N.C. Central (March 5).
Improving role player
Ron Jackson came on strong in the second half of last season and earned a starting role for six games down the stretch. The 6-foot-8 power forward is long and lean, a leaper who led the Aggies in offensive rebounds and averaged a team-high 9.3 points in conference games. This season, Jackson might be the Aggies’ best inside scorer.
The hallmark of Joyner’s last two teams has been depth and balance. Last season, 11 players averaged 10 or more minutes per game. No one averaged double-figures scoring, and eight players led the Aggies in single-game scoring at least once. Langley has developed into the league’s best pure pass-first point guard, and he is a steadying influence on the floor.
Depth is a two-edged sword. A&T never had a go-to scorer last season, instead getting the ball to the player with the hot hand. The Aggies would like to find that guy (or guys) this season. The first-semester schedule is challenging, with 10 of 14 non-conference games outside of the cozy Corbett Center. Those games before New Year's Day can either teach a team toughness, or teach a team how to lose.
The new group gets off to a slow start and gets roughed up in guarantee games. Those setbacks make it hard for a younger team to find itself, and struggles carry over into the MEAC portion of the schedule. A&T falls to the middle of the pack in the standings and gets bounced early from the conference tournament.
Langley is already a leader, but he takes the next step in his development and has an all-conference season at point guard. Ron Jackson picks up where he left off, another scorer emerges from the crop of new players, and the rest find their roles. The Aggies dominate at home, ride their defense to a regular-season title, have a breakthrough MEAC Tournament and end up back in the NCAA field.