ST. PAULS — With eight seniors on the St. Pauls boys basketball roster, second-year coach Corey Thompson knows that his team has experience, but the challenge this year is about getting those seniors to accept bigger and more valuable roles.
“We have seniors, but in different roles and different capacities. Those guys have got to become accustomed to playing in those roles and playing in those minutes that they we’re playing in last year,” Thompson said. “We’ll learn.”
Coming off a 19-8 season last year that included a win in the first round of the state playoffs over Farmville Central, the core group that led last year’s team has now departed, leaving the role players to fill those spots for the Bulldogs.
Filling in the leader of leader in the backcourt is senior guard Aaron Revels, who was the sixth man last year for the Bulldogs behind guards Ted McNeill, Cole Humphrey and J.J. Oxendine. In the post, versatile forward Romeo Jordan is one of four captains and will look to make up for the loss of Michael Barnes and Isaiah Harlee.
“Aaron has been doing a good job for me. We’ve had to get him accustomed to playing a little more,” Thompson said. “Losing Ted and J.J., that was a lot, because they brought some toughness to the team and that’s something we are trying to search and find now.”
Joining Jordan in the post as a role player stepping into the starting lineup is 6-foot-7 senior Sean McNeill. McNeill’s game has shown progress under the direction of Thompson, a former post player himself.
“I’ve been very pleased with both Romeo and Sean. I’ve been having a talk with Romeo all summer as far as expectations I have for him,” Thompson said. “I feel like he’s been trying to do that. Sean has been making vast improvements. His minutes have drastically changed so now he has to fill that different void.”
While Revels and senior guard Tyreek Burden are the only guards on the team that bring experience from last season, it is a few newcomers that gives Thompson some promise for his backcourt. They lack experience, but the toughness that the Bulldogs lost is something he feels the newcomers can bring.
“I think we have some young guards that are doing pretty good with Caleb Henderson and Emonta (Smith),” Thompson said. “I feel like those guys can bring what Ted and J.J. brought on a nightly basis, but it is just about getting them comfortable and being able to perform.”
Both players are sophomores and Henderson is the brother of Ted McNeill.
St. Pauls has lifted itself up over the past few years from a middle-of-the-pack team in the Three Rivers Conference, to a team right on the brink of breaking through as a title contender. The Bulldogs finished third in the conference last year behind Fairmont and Whiteville.
Having a year under his belt with his team has paid dividends this offseason for Thompson.
“Getting a chance to work with the guys a little more this year than I did last year, I feel like we are a little quicker with speed,” he said. “It’s going to take some time to iron out some kinks on offense, and once we do that we will be alright.”
Lady Bulldogs buying in to coaching change
For first-year coach Mike Moses, building a culture has been his first priority, and the young St. Pauls girls basketball team has started to mold into their coach’s vision.
“I have to establish from day one a culture and that comes with hard work. These girls have never had a preseason condition program, or anything before tryouts so it’s different,” Moses said.
The results from the more intensive offseason workouts has shown with the effort Moses has saw from his team this preseason. Moses inherits a 3-20 team from last year, but the energy from the team this year shows the squad is ready to turn the page.
“They play hard and give me everything that they’ve got and that’s all I can ask for,” he said. “We’re young so I’ve got a bunch of freshmen and sophomores. I like their energy and they have great passion. All you can ask for is your team to play hard. At the end of the day you might not have the weapons you want to have, but if they play hard you can sacrifice that.”
St. Pauls has not had a winning season on the girls side since the 2011-12 season.
Moses said that there is a potential this season to start three freshman, and many first-year players will see significant time on the floor. Freshman guard T.J. Eichelberger will be a leader among that backcourt group, and Moses said that he has plans to mold his guards into the core of his team.
“I’m trying to get our guard play better,” Moses said. “I want to start three guards. Three girls that can run the point or play the two where we can push the ball.”
Along with Eichelberger, junior Judiah “Diamond” Simms-Moore also will play a big part with the Lady Bulldogs in the frontcourt.
Jonathan Bym can be reached at 910-816-1977 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @Jonathan_Bym.