11/17/06 — Blending Youth: MOC starters eager to play with incoming talent

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Blending Youth: MOC starters eager to play with incoming talent

By Rudy Coggins
Published in Sports on November 17, 2006 1:47 PM

MOUNT OLIVE -- Three consecutive 20-win seasons.

Three straight NCAA regional appearances.

Back-to-back preseason national rankings.

An average of 24 wins per season since 2003.

It's a blueprint that veteran Mount Olive College men's basketball coach Bill Clingan has developed lately and one that requires little alteration each season. In fact, Clingan and his coaching staff selects personnel that adapts to his philosophy and it's paid quality dividends.

The Trojans are coming off a 25-7 season that included a runner-up finish in the highly-competitive Carolinas-Virginia Athletics Conference, and a semifinal appearance in the NCAA Division II East Regional.

"There are expectations that abound (around our program) year in and year out," said Clingan, who is closing in on 300 career wins. "That kind of success sets the stage and puts some pressure on our players each year. We lost some good people, but we have a lot of good people coming back.

"People who know me know I am conservative in my predictions. Internally, I'm probably more positive, but I like the philosophy that every game speaks for itself in terms of the season."

The successes Clingan's teams have recently experienced have been based on work ethic. He surmises this team -- which returns three starters -- appears to be no different. If the work ethic continues, the Trojans could experience another reward-filled season.

Mount Olive lost four seniors from a year ago, but that could be a good omen. Clingan took his first-ever team to the NCAA tournament one year after losing four starters from the 2003 squad.

Will history repeat itself? Clingan contends that team chemistry will prove critical in earning a fourth consecutive regional trip.

"We're working hard to find rotations and trying to get our players to learn each other," said Clingan. "We've got some new people we're trying to blend in and as we do that, we can build chemistry -- which is the most-important part of the team."

Elton Coffield and Elijah Rouse, a pair of all-CVAC performers, return for their senior season. Coffield, dubbed the best "sixth man" in college basketball, will start this season alongside Rouse. Rouse, who hails from Kinston, pumped in 10.1 points and grabbed a team-best 6.7 rebounds per outing.

Coffield, who played last summer in Australia, averaged a team-leading 15.3 points and was second in minutes played (859) only to Melvin Creddle, who graduated.

"I am glad to be back in coach Clingan's playing style," said Coffield, a preseason All-American honorable mention selection. "It's more of a team system and over there, it's more of a one-on-one style.

"(The transition to starter) is coming along slowly. I've got to play smarter and stay out of foul trouble. I also pay more attention to the scouting report now."

Chris Bartley, a third starter, sustained an injury during preseason and is not due back until February. Bartley started in 31 of 32 games last season, and supplied energy, intensity and enthusiasm on the court.

"All of a sudden, he's not there and you feel kind of funny," said Rouse of Bartley's absence. "Playing with (Brandon) Streeter and the other freshmen in open gym, their style is similar and they fit right in.

"When we do get Chris back, it's going to be better than what it is now."

Streeter (6-foot-6, 240 pounds) and freshman Kendrick Easley (6-1, 175) are expected to contribute significant minutes. A junior transfer from Hampton (Va.) University, Streeter averaged 23 points in two preseason games. Easley averaged 16 points in the preseason.

Montel Jones, Chris Holloway, Justin Melton and Paulius Dziugelis also return. The quartet combined for 14 points and six rebounds per game. Jones appeared in 29 games and dished out 30 assists, while Melton played in 30 games and handed out 44 assists.

Dziugelis shot nearly 41 percent from 3-point range and Chris Holloway averaged 74.2 percent at the free throw line.

"Melton is adjusting to the system and leading the team. He will only get better," said Clingan, whose team is ranked No. 19 in the Division II preseason poll. "Chris is a strong, hard-working individual who has improved his game tremendously."

Also expected to get playing time are freshmen Mike Holloman and Josh Brown, and junior Lydell Walker. Walker is a 6-7, 176-pound transfer from Penn State-McKeesport.

"We feel very good about our people," said Clingan. "We will be a work in progress."

A demanding and challenging schedule will help Mount Olive prepare for the CVAC portion of its schedule. The Trojans play two talented West Virginia teams -- West Virginia State and Charleston -- in early January. They also have games scheduled against Lincoln Memorial and Francis Marion (S.C.).

Coaches tabbed Mount Olive to finish second behind archrival Barton College in the CVAC title chase. The Bulldogs won all four meetings a year ago and eliminated the Trojans from the regional.

Joey Higginbotham, a long-time assistant to Clingan and former player, says a conditioning and strength program should help Mount Olive prepare for its taxing schedule.

"Mike Ingle is helping us in conditioning and strength, and has been a blessing to our program," said Higginbotham. "We've never really lifted during the season and have always let the guys do it on their own. He's helped us with our strength, our explosiveness and our quickness.

"We want to be stronger and the quicker we can do it, the better we're going to be. We don't want to be a top-conditioned team right now, but we will be later."

Mount Olive tips off its 2006-07 campaign today against Ohio Valley (W. Va.) College in the 41st annual Pickle Classic. Game time is 8 p.m. at Kornegay Arena.