11/14/09 — All-American Easley, Holloman expected to lead Trojan men's basketball team

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All-American Easley, Holloman expected to lead Trojan men's basketball team

By Andrew Stevens
Published in Sports on November 14, 2009 11:05 PM

All the necessary pieces appear to be in place for the Mount Olive College men's basketball team to take the next step forward.

All that remains is the execution.

The Trojans return a pair of talented seniors -- two-time All-American Kendrick Easley and Mike Holloman, an All-Conference Carolinas selection last season.

A blend of experience and newcomers should provide second-year head coach Joey Higginbotham with plenty of depth. A challenging, but not overwhelming non-conference schedule offers an opportunity to prepare for conference play.

"I'm really excited about this year," said Higginbotham. "We have a great group of kids that are really working hard. Their responsibility is the effort and the energy. My responsibility is the execution. They've really given me the effort."

A pre-season All-American selection and the 2008 Conference Carolinas player of the year, Easley looks to build on his 21.2 points-per-game average from last season. Holloman has fully recovered from a knee injury he suffered last year.

"Kendrick and Mike are basically four-year starters," said Higginbotham. "They're both held at an extremely high level. Kendrick had a great year last year and Mike did also, but we need more out of them both this year."

Eight players who are either juniors or seniors are mixed with six freshmen and sophomores, which gives Higginbotham a versatile roster full of length and athleticism. Despite the lack of a bruising inside presence, Mount Olive has four players listed at 6-foot-6 or taller.

Freshman forwards Mahamed Ibrahim (6-6), Deshaune Green (6-7) and Eric Williams (6-8) along with returners Kason Cheeks (6-6) and Aleks Mitrovic (6-7) should give the Trojans length on the interior.

Higginbotham hopes to play an up-tempo brand of basketball in an effort to create more easy baskets, but feels confident in his team's half-court attack.

"We'll be longer and maybe not have a dominating post presence, but we should definitely be able to execute," said Higginbotham. "Our first option is to push, but if not we can definitely settle down and execute in our half-court."

Sophomore Derek Staton inherits the full-time point guard role from Justin Melton. Melton graduated and is now playing professionally in Brazil. Staton was thrusted into the starting lineup early last season after Melton was sidelined with a knee injury.

He thrived in that role and returned in the fall ready to be handed the keys to the offense. Staton has been named a co-captain along with Easley.

"I think Derek probably came back stronger than any kid on our team in gain," said Higginbotham. "He was kind of thrown into the fire last year with Justin Melton going down with a knee injury. He stepped up this pre-season and worked his tail off. He's shooting the ball better and he's really becoming a leader."

Mount Olive finished 18-10 in 2008 including a 17-3 mark in conference play. The Trojans earned a share of the regular-season conference championship, but were upset by Erskine in the opening round of the conference tournament.

Non-conference meetings include Monday's season opener at Lenoir-Rhyne, Mars Hill, Virginia Union, Armstrong Atlantic, Wingate, St. Augustine's and Augusta State fill the early portion of the schedule.

A preseason selection of second in the conference behind archrival Barton, along with the lingering sting of last season's first-round conference tournament exit, has provided all the motivation Easley and his teammates need.

"Last season was a very big disappointment to myself, my teammates and my coaches," said Easley. "In my words, it was totally unacceptable. It adds fuel to the fire and we just want to go out there this year and push even harder to exceed any kind of expectations that we already have."