Hunters now the hunted
By Rudy Coggins
Published in Sports on November 18, 2005 2:06 PM
Keeping its position among the nation's elite on the Division II men's college basketball scene won't be easy for Mount Olive College this season.
Writers at two publications, including highly-regarded Street and Smith magazine, have given the Trojans top-10 recognition in their respective preseason polls. Without a doubt, Mount Olive expects to build on last year's record-setting campaign, but the Trojans also realize they can't duplicate what they accomplished.
"At no other time have we had the preseason exposure and expectations that we have this year," said veteran MOC coach Bill Clingan. "It's like voting. There are pre-election favorites and until the final votes are counted, nothing counts.
"We have to forget about it. We enjoyed the experiences and we can only use it for building (our program). We need to digest last season and need to get hungry for this year."
Mount Olive returns four starters and eight lettermen off last year's squad that tied Pfeiffer for regular-season supremacy in the Carolinas-Virginia Athletics Conference. The Trojans posted school records for victories in regular-season (29) and CVAC play (18) and concluded the year ranked 15th in the final top 25 poll.
Clingan's main focus is to mold the newcomers with the veteran players. An inexperienced frontcourt must quickly grasp the staff's offensive and defensive schemes which involve techniques, fundamentals and daily drills.
Two true freshmen and one junior college transfer are expected to contribute significant minutes this season. Assistant coaches Joey Higginbotham and Russell Royal recruited 6-foot-10 junior Antoine Griffin, 6-8 freshman Justin Egdorf and 6-5 freshman forward Chris Holloway in the offseason.
"Justin has got a great future. Chris hustles and will get an opportunity to play some minutes this year," said Clingan, who is 253-172 in 16 seasons at Mount Olive. "(Griffin) is learning and adjusting to our inside play. If they buy into our scheme, as we get into the season, we can fulfill some of those expectations.
"I think everybody has their feet on the floor ... understand what they need to do."
Clingan used exhibition games against UNC Wilmington and N.C. State as measuring sticks for his team. The Trojans achieved "little victories" against each Division I member and have applied that knowledge in recent practices.
Plus, playing in hostile environments prepares the Trojans for tough crowds in the CVAC.
"It does give you an edge," said senior Victor Young.
Coming back -- Part I
Mount Olive returns four guards -- Young, Elton Coffield, Maurice Horton and Marvin Creddle.
All four averaged double figures and provided more than half of the Trojans' offense a year ago. Coffield pumped in 17.6 points a game in a "sixth-man" role. Horton scored 11.5 with Creddle and Young close behind at 10.9 and 10.5, respectively.
Creddle, a JUCO transfer, started all 34 games last season at point guard.
Coffield has received preseason All-American nominations from Street and Smith, and the NCAA Division II Bulletin. The Williamston native earned the most valuable player award in the 2004 East Regional and averaged 28 minutes a game.
"I try not to think about it, just keep a mindset ... a level head to play ball," said Coffield.
"He's got some pressure on him a little bit, but I told him to just let the game come to you and good things will happen," said Clingan.
Horton ranked among the nation's leaders in steals last season and climbed as high as 15th. A two-time, all-CVAC Tournament selection, Horton recorded at least one steal in 29 of 30 games a year ago.
Young, Horton and Coffield are within range of joining the program's 1,000-point club this season. Coffield is the closest with 865 points, followed by Horton (736) and Young (728).
Horton, Young and fellow senior Chuckie Jefferson have a career record of 70-23. The trio could possibly tie and break the record of 71 set by Sean Barnett if the Trojans win their sixth consecutive Pickle Classic championship.
Coming back -- Part II
While much of the attention will certainly be placed on the Trojans' backcourt, the frontcourt tandem of Elijah Rouse and Chris Bartley aren't too shabby.
Rouse, a 6-3 junior from Kinston, averaged 8.8 points and 4.7 rebounds an outing. He led the team in field goal percentage (60.4), ranked third in defensive rebounds (88) and had the second-highest rebounding total (161) behind Sharome Holloway, who graduated.
Bartley buried 46 percent of his 3-pointers last season and ranked second on the team in two-point field goal percentage (58.5). He earned 12 starts in 33 appearances and averaged seven points an outing.
Mount Olive is slated to play a 27-game schedule that includes non-conference contests against members of the Peach Belt and the West Virginia Intercollegiate Athletic Conference.
Clingan's squad tips off its 2005-06 campaign at home tonight against CVAC foe Lees-McRae in the 40th annual Pickle Classic. The Trojans won both meetings by an average of 15.5 points last year.
Mount Olive opens its CVAC schedule at Queens on Nov. 29 and plays six of its 15 home games before the Christmas break.
"Right now we are a big target to whoever we play," admitted Clingan. "Our conference is loaded with outstanding teams and is probably one of the most-competitive conferences in the United States.
"Any team, top to bottom in this conference, can beat you on any given night."
The Trojans will squeeze a demanding schedule into less than four months. They'll play either two or three games a week.
"We're breaking it down into two- and three-week game seasons each week," said Horton. "If we take that approach, we should come out successful. You have to come out hungry each game."
Horton and his teammates have an extra incentive this season. Mount Olive will play host to semifinals and finals of the season-ending CVAC Tournament. The winner earns an automatic bid to the NCAA East Regional.
"Our lone goal is to win the conference championship," said Clingan. "If we do that, everything else should take care of itself. We have to build toward that.
"We have much work to do by the end of the season."
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