11/16/07 — New faces join tradition-rich Mount Olive men's program

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New faces join tradition-rich Mount Olive men's program

By Andrew Stevens
Published in Sports on November 16, 2007 3:21 PM

MOUNT OLIVE -- It's hard to imagine that a team that finished 23-8 a year ago and made its fourth consecutive NCAA Division II East Regional appearance would begin the 2007 season seeking to find its identity.

That's exactly where the Mount Olive Trojans find themselves as they begin their season tonight in the 42nd annual Pickle Classic at Kornegay Arena against Wingate.

"I think it's kind of like putting a puzzle together," Trojans head coach Bill Clingan said. "You put it together and when it's finished you know what it looks like. I think it's a picture we're going to like. We're still searching for our identity as far as how all of our parts work."

With a healthy mix of youth and experience, the Trojans should get more widespread contributions on offense this season.

Junior Justin Melton should see the majority of the minutes at the point guard position. Melton started 25 games a year ago and averaged seven-plus points an outing.

Kendrick Easley, a 6-foot-1 sophomore will serve as Melton's backup, giving Clingan a serviceable option off the bench.

Mike Holloman, Aaron Dobson, Justin Foskey, Josh Brown and Angelo Griffin will provide the Trojans with plenty of depth at guard.

Senior 6-foot-6 forward Brandon Streeter will be counted on to fill the offensive void left by Elijah Rouse and Elton Coffield -- Mount Olive's two leading scorers from a year ago.

Streeter averaged almost 14 points a game last season, with Easley scoring close to 15 a contest. This pair along with freshman forward Shaughnnon Washum, Brown, and senior big man Lydell Walker should pace the Trojans attack.

Aking Elting, a former guard at the College of Southern Idaho, will become eligible for Mount Olive in December, and should add another piece to Clingan's puzzle.

"We're going to get a lot more balanced scoring from our team this year game in and game out," Clingan said.

On the interior, freshmen Craig Hayes, Wilson Hunt graduate Kason Cheeks and Washum should all challenge for playing time.

In the midst of an exhibition season that saw Mount Olive go 2-1, Clingan witnessed a relentless commitment toward improvement from his club. The Trojans' willingness to put forth the effort necessary to succeed before the wins and losses began to count caught Clingan's attention.

"I like our work ethic," Clingan said. "We have the ability to work together on the court. For us to have a good year they have to have that same work ethic day in and day out. We also need to be a little more aggressive as a team, but that's part of the identity we're searching for."

Having reached the NCAA tournament four consecutive years, the expectations around the Mount Olive program continue to rise. During that time, the program has gone from a little-known institution in the eastern part of the state, to a school recognized throughout Division II athletics.

"When you've had the fortune of making it to the NCAAs four years in a row, you start to get name recognition throughout Division II," Clingan said. "At one time people didn't know who Mount Olive was. With that comes responsibility with our team. I feel like some of our former teams have handed off the baton to our guys. At the same token, every year there's a high level of expectations that are higher than five or six years ago."

The Trojans will face West Virginia State on Saturday in the Pickle Classic, before beginning Conference Carolinas play next week against Pfeiffer.

The Conference Carolinas tournament format has gotten a facelift this season, with only the top eight regular-season finishers advancing to the tournament. In previous seasons, all 11 teams earned spots in the tournament.