Trojans search for indentity
By Andrew Stevens
Published in Sports on November 14, 2010 1:51 AM
The biggest task for third-year Mount Olive men's basketball coach Joey Higginbotham in 2010-11 may not be devising game plans or teaching fundamentals of the game.
The largest obstacle for Higginbotham may be in helping his team complete its search for an identity.
The program's all-time leading scorer, Kendrick Easley, and last season's second-leading scorer, Mike Holloman, have graduated. The Trojans have just three seniors on the roster, and none are taller than 6-foot-8. Finding chemistry with five newcomers, while navigating a difficult non-conference schedule will be important during the first month of the season.
"We are a work in progress trying to find our identity," said Higginbotham. "It's a new year and a new team with a new goal. This team is making strides, but we have a long ways to go to be good. We need to bring our working man's blue-collar attitude every day.
"We can not take any days off."
Mount Olive, which has won three straight Conference Carolinas regular-season championships, return three starters off last year's team that finished 25-9 and advanced to the NCAA Division II Southeast Regional.
The Trojans are ranked No. 25 in the Division II Bulletin preseason poll, and are picked to finish third among Conference Carolinas teams. Coaches predict Limestone and Barton to end up first and second, respectively.
Junior point guard Derek Staton broke the school's single-game and single-season assists records a year ago. The only Trojan to start every game last season, Staton's importance has become greater with the loss of Easley and Holloman.
"You do not replace players like Kendrick and Mike on or off the court," said Higginbotham. "They were great guys and did an amazing job of representing Mount Olive College. Derek was a very important part of our team last year. This year he will be asked to do more scoring, but most of all be the leader all the time."
Two-time all-Carolinas Conference senior forward Craig Hayes, fellow senior forward Kashon Cheeks, junior Jordan Gaffney and sophomore Deshaune Green are being counted on to provide a physical presence on the interior. Hayes averaged 14.5 points and 7.1 rebounds a game last season. Junior forward Aleks Mitrovic (6-foot-7) started 21 games in 2009 also returns.
Higginbotham has liked what he's seen from Kinston High School graduate Dory Hines during workouts. Fellow freshman Ewon Wright possesses an outside shooting touch, while transfer Travis Baskerville is expected to contribute perimeter defense and ball handling.
Mount Olive opens it season Monday at home against Lenoir-Rhyne. The Trojans play host to the 45th annual Pickle Classic on Nov. 19-20 with contests against North Georgia and Mars Hill.
Mount Olive opens conference play Nov. 30 at archrival Barton.
"We always play a tough non-conference schedule and this year's schedule is very tough," said Higginbotham. "And we truly believe it will prepare us for conference play. I think playing Barton for our first conference game is really bad for our league. But, I don't make that decision.
"It's a great rivalry between two schools that should be played later in the season. It won't matter when we play. Our kids and their kids will be ready to play."