After last season's success, Trojans can't wait to start this season's journey
By David Williams
Published in Sports on November 18, 2004 1:56 PM
MOUNT OLIVE -- It's another basketball season, and Mount Olive College men's coach Bill Clingan is anxiously awaiting tipoff for Friday night's season-opening game against Bluefield State in the Mount Olive Pickle Classic.
"I'm looking forward to seeing how this year's team stacks up against the competition we're going to face," he said. "We've been tested a couple of times with outstanding teams, which was what we wanted. Now it's time to go against some top Division II caliber and test our abilities. The Pickle Classic will give us some first-hand experience at doing just that, and finding what's going on."
Clingan lined up a pair of dream exhibition matchups against Division I teams -- UNC Wilmington and No. 3-ranked North Carolina. The Seahawks and the Tar Heels exposed the weak spots of Clingan's Trojans, and gave the veteran coach a terrific opportunity to put his team in optimum playing shape.
Now Clingan thinks he knows what his team can do. He can't wait to put it all to the test - with games that count.
"I knew going up to UNC that we would be on a high, and rightly so," Clingan said. "But we only have a few nights to get our minds right again. We've discussed it. This is where it really counts -- the opening of the season."
Mount Olive has a lot to live up to after winning a school-record 23 games last year and earning a spot in the NCAA regional tournament field. It will be even tougher with the crop of seniors that are no longer in uniform -- including power forward Marcus West, guard Janson Greene and top reserve Shawn Barnett.
Clingan has been around long enough to know that talk of replacing a player like West is wrong-headed.
"I don't think anybody will," he said. "You look at some of the players we've had in the past -- Dameon Baker, Russell Stephens, Chris MacDonald -- and you can't replace them. You take a different caliber of player and try to adjust your offense to get production. And Marcus is not the only one -- Shawn Barnett made a big impact on this program, as did Johnny Galarza, Janson Greene and Brad McDougal."
Still, there is a lot of positives going into the year for the Trojans -- and chief among them is an air of confidence.
"No doubt, there's definitely a feeling on this basketball team of high expectations, based on what's happened before," said Clingan. "But now we have some people that were there and tasted all the successes of a year ago, and they want a piece of that again."
Clingan's system of substitution ensures the players coming back had had a lot of court time in the past and are all tested veterans. Clingan noted a lot of maturity among the returning players, and nowhere is it better represented than in former Goldsboro High standout Victor Young.
The 6-foot-2 junior was one of five Trojans to log more than 600 minutes on the floor last season, despite starting only eight games. He shot a solid 46 percent from the floor and dished up 49 assists.
"I'm so happy to see his maturity on the court and off the court," said Clingan of Young. "There's a great amount of stability that he brings to the table this year. He's got that court savvy that you can't teach."
Also returning at the guard spot is Maurice Horton, a junior out of Hampton, Virginia who is ready to become the kind of player Clingan expected when he first saw Horton in an all-star game. Horton shot 39 percent and grabbed 119 boards last season, third-best on the team.
"I knew he had good things written all over him," he said. "They both bring a lot of experience to the table."
Add to the mix sophomore Elton Coffield, who shot nearly 80 percent from the free-throw line and 43 percent from the field, and newcomer Melvin Creddle, who Clingan likes for his defense and ball-handling abilities. The three-point ace is Mark Bitzenhofer, a sharp-shooting senior who saw action in parts of 16 games and shot over 43 percent from the floor. Clingan expects solid minutes out of former Kinston High School standout Montel Jones.
In the post, Sharome Holloway has not only taken the mantle from West, but has reshaped it to fit his game. The 6-foot-8 senior has a more demonstrative game than the quieter West, but he leads by example on the floor and brings a heady maturity to the Trojans. Holloway was 53 percent from the floor last season and snagged 108 rebounds -- in just 20 games.
Sophomore Chris Bartley is ready to contribute, deadly when he steps out to shoot and strong with good footwork inside. Just a sophomore, Bartley drilled eight threes and shot 55 percent from the floor.
Clingan said Former North Lenoir center Elijah Rouse brings more excitement to the court than any Trojan player, while new post player Moise Orlean Tchankeu is expected to make a major contribution after he gets comfortable with the system A native of Cameroon who played at Eastern Oklahoma State College, Tchankeu brings 250 pounds and six-feet, eight inches to the baseline game.
"He can run the court," Clingan said. "He'll run though the wall for you. As the season progresses, he is going to help us more and more."
Senior Plinio Broering has bulked up and worked on his game, giving the Trojans another big presence at 6-foot-7 and 215 pounds. Junior Chuckie Jefferson is recovering from a stress fracture in his foot and is nearly ready to play again.
Clingan sees a team that is quicker defensively, especially on the perimeter. The Trojans will spread the inside scoring out more to prevent defenses from collapsing on one player and making the chore of guarding more difficult.
The Carolina-Virginia Athletic Conference will look to be more balanced, with weaker teams picking up more talent and developing more players in their own systems. Pfeiffer, the defending champion, will be among the top teams, with Queens and Belmont Abbey.
"There should be some great games, and a few nail biters," said Clingan.
But the CVAC wars are just part of the puzzle for Mount Olive. To get back to the NCAA tournament, the Trojans have set up a non-conference schedule that featured four teams from last season's top 25 list and three important regional matchups. At stake will be valuable points toward garnering another playoff bid, so there will be no nights off for the Trojans.
Clingan said that the other teams in the Pickle Classic will provide the tough early-season tests Clingan seeks.
"Lees-McRae should be vastly improved," he said. "They have one of the top players in the conference coming back. They lost practically no one, picked up a couple of recruits, and will be a team to watch. Newberry has a new coach and a couple of new players that are not known to us. That will be an interesting matchup. Bluefield State is a regional team for us, They have a new coach and four players back that averaged in double figures.
"The competition should be good, there should be a few top players for the fans to watch. It should be exciting."
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