In fact, at 5-foot-10, 170 pounds, he’s fearless.
UNCP’s high-energy senior guard dove for a loose ball rolling between the legs of USC Aiken’s Jesse Seilern midway through the second half Wednesday and gathered it in with one arm before being whistled for traveling.
Starkey’s extended floor-burn was a microcosm of the kind of maximum effort and hustle plays indicative of the Braves’ basketball team this season, a squad primed for a return trip to the NCAA Tournament.
And Starkey, at just 9.3 minutes per game, is a leading contributor.
“I told the referee it’s a shame he had to make a turnover call on a play like that,” UNCP coach Ben Miller said. “Miguel is a guy that brings it every day. That dude has earned it.”
In front of an announced crowd of 2,247 at the English E. Jones Center, the former walk-on impressed fans — and UNCP’s starters — with a pair of momentum-changing layups and an 8-foot leaner in front of an outstretched defender.
With center George Blakeney’s help, Miller picked Starkey off the floor at the scorer’s table after the head-first slide and gave his leader a pat on the backside.
“He’s worked his tail off from Day 1 and really has gotten that many opportunities,” Miller said. “The best thing about Miguel is even when he wasn’t playing, he still busted his butt every day in practice. That’s the kind of kid he is.”
A relative unknown who spent his first two seasons at Lenoir Community College, Starkey has solidified a spot in UNCP’s eight-man rotation this season with an inner drive that impresses all members of the coaching staff. The Kinston native made 3-of-4 shots against the nationally-ranked Pacers and gave the Braves quality minutes off the bench in place of injured guard Shahmel Brackett.
UNCP’s 78-69 victory snapped USC Aiken’s four-game winning streak and gave the Braves their eighth home win of the season — the most in 11 years.
“It’s got to be one of the best wins I’ve had in my career because of the hype leading up (to the game),” Starkey said. “Getting a win like this in the Peach Belt gives us respect around the league and around the country also.”
Matched up most of his minutes with Ronald Zimmerman, the PBC’s leading 3-point shooter, Starkey’s quick feet and reflexes frustrated the Pacers’ standout guard. Zimmerman missed of 11-of-14 shots, including 7-of-10 tries from long range.
Starkey, along with backcourt mates Marcus Heath and Griffin Pittman, held USC Aiken shooters in check to a season-low 37.7 percent from the floor.
“We felt the pressure on us coming in, but we knew we had to play hard and execute,” Starkey said. “We feel like our guards made the plays necessary to win (the game).”
Starkey and the Braves host Georgia College Sunday before departing on a four-game road trip that concludes at Francis Marion in Florence, S.C. on Feb. 2.
Reach Staff writer Brad Crawford at 910-272-6119 or at email@example.com