Trojans ranked No. 5
By Rudy Coggins
Published in Sports on October 5, 2005 2:07 PM
MOUNT OLIVE -- Expectations exceeded.
Coming off its first-ever appearance in the NCAA Division II Elite Eight, the Mount Olive College men's basketball team finds itself ranked among the nation's top 10 programs heading into November. Writers at Street and Smith magazine put the Trojans fifth in their annual preseason poll.
Veteran coach Bill Clingan expected a ranking, but not this.
"It definitely makes us a target and every team that comes in will definitely be up to play us moreso than normal," said Clingan. "It's a honor for those sportswriters to think our program should be in the top 10. We have done nothing this year, but I told the kids it's based on what we did last year.
"It is a reward, but in the same token, a tribute to players who have been here in the past and the players from last year. It's definitely a highlight in Mount Olive College history and for the school."
Four starters return for the Trojans, who finished 29-5 and lost to eventual national runner-up Bryant University. Also included in the mix is Elton Coffield, unarguably the nation's "best sixth man" and listed as a preseason honorable mention All-American. A native of Williamston, Coffield earned East Regional MVP accolades with a 29-point performance against Salem International in the regional championship.
Coffield, a 6-foot-3 junior, came off the bench in 32 of 34 games last year. He averaged 17.6 points and ranked among the nation's leaders in 3-point shooting at 45.5 percent. Coffield secured first-team recognition on the all-East Region tournament squad and in Carolinas-Virginia Athletics Conference play.
"Elton made big contributions for us last year and we look for the same type of contributions this year," said Clingan. "We need all the guys coming back and our new people to blend in to make the type of team chemistry necessary to be successful."
The Trojans will put a senior-laden, guard-oriented team on the court this season. Junior college transfer Melvin Creddle, Maurice Horton and Goldsboro native Victor Young are back for their final year. Young tallied 23 points against Salem and picked up a spot on the all-region team. Horton grabbed all-CVAC honorable mention accolades.
Junior Elijah Rouse, who hails from Kinston, returns at forward. Also back are Chris Bartley, Chuckie Jefferson and Montel Jones.
Top assistant Joey Higginbotham and Russell Royal scoured the country and amassed one of their best recruiting classes to date. Lithuanian native Paulius Dziugelis (6-foot-4) has three years of eligibility and will spend time at either shooting guard or small forward. Freshman point guard Justin Melton from Yorktown, Va., is expected to contribute along with 6-8, 220-pound forward Justin Egdorf from Texas.
Antione Griffin transferred from Spartanburg Methodist and Chris Holloway, a redshirt freshman from Chesapeake, Va., will see some time this season. Clingan said two freshmen will receive redshirts this season -- Brandon Streeter, a transfer from Hampton (Va.) University and Greg Harmon, a former standout at Southview High School in Hope Mills.
"Coach Higginbotham and coach Royal have done an excellent job recruiting," said Clingan, the 2005 CVAC coach of the year. "With the returnees and the additions of our recruits, our coaching staff did an excellent job bringing in the type of kids who will fit in and help our program continue the success we've enjoyed."
Mount Olive tied in-state rival Pfeiffer University, ranked No. 9 by Street and Smith, for regular-season supremacy in CVAC play last season. The teams are expected to challenge for the league title again in undoubtedly one of the nation's most-competitive conferences.
"The fact that Pfeiffer is ranked number nine gives you an idea how strong our league is on a national basis and how competitive it is," said Clingan. "This year will be no exception and the CVAC will be tougher than it was a year ago.
"I do feel like this year's team from a talent standpoint and from a motivation standpoint can definitely make a run at the (CVAC) title and that is their sole goal."
The CVAC is just one of two leagues to have teams ranked among the top 10. Northeast 10 Conference representatives St. Anselm (N.H.) and Bentley (Mass.) are fourth and seventh, respectively.
Tarleton State, a state-supported 16,000-student school, withdrew its application for Division I until next year. The Texans are ranked No. 1 in the preseason ahead of Western Washington University. Defending national champion Virginia Union is third.
Mount Olive plays a pair of preseason scrimmages at Division I UNC Wilmington (Nov. 5) and N.C. State (Nov. 11). The Trojans officially open their season against Lees-McRae in the 40th annual Pickle Classic on Nov. 18 at 8 p.m. Chowan and UNC Pembroke round out the four-team field.
"We will be an exciting team to watch, but we have our work to," said Clingan. "Without a doubt, this team is the most experienced we've had returning. (But) the guys have not proven anything yet."
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