NASHVILLE, Tenn. – On Monday night, the Tennessee State men’s basketball team will take on Lemoyne-Owen in an exhibition game in preparation of its season opener on Nov. 8. The Tigers will tipoff against the Magicians at 7 p.m. in the Gentry Center before traveling to the University of Hawai’i to take part in the Rainbow Classic.
Coming off a stellar first season at the helm of the Tennessee State men’s basketball program Travis Williams is looking to build the Tigers into a consistent OVC threat year in and year out.
The Tigers are coming off an 18-15 season finishing third in the OVC East division with an 11-5 conference record.
Williams’ undeniable team leader will be All-OVC point guard Patrick Miller who will now be the Tigers most experienced player on a young team.
“When you look at a point guard that’s usually the most important position on the court and to have that caliber of player returning his senior year is going to be a tremendous asset for our team,” Williams said of his veteran floor general.
The senior point guard is a potential OVC player of the year candidate who returns to the reigns of an offense that will rely on a lot of newcomers to shoulder heavy production losses. Miller averaged 14.8 points, 5.9 assists per game as well as recording a 1.7 assist-to-turnover ratio. The Chicago native’s junior season will go down as one of the best for a point guard at TSU after Miller set the single season assist mark with 195.
Miller’s record breaking junior season earned him a spot on the All-OVC first team. The 6-1 guard enters the season as just one of two holdovers from the ’12-’13 All-OVC first and second teams and the only member of the first team to return.
Coach Williams is now asking his savvy point guard to focus even more attention to another aspect of his game.
“He’s been able to show a lot of leadership in helping the younger guys along but I think he’s welcoming the challenge,” said Williams on Miller’s vocal role on this year’s team. “I want him to have more of a voice this year to develop the makeup of this team. He’s been thrust into that role and I think he’s looking forward to that challenge.”
The supporting cast around Miller will be a more youthful unit than the senior is used to with the loss of All-OVC second team members Robert Covington and Kellen Thornton as well as Jordan Cyphers and Tashan Frederick to graduation. Overall the Tigers will be replacing 62.2% of their scoring and 44.5 points per game.
Coach Travis Williams will turn to both a combination of veteran talent and youthful newcomers to pace the 2013-14 Tigers team.
Junior M.J. Rhett will pace the Tigers in the post after a strong sophomore campaign averaging 5.3 points and 6.0 rebounds per game. Rhett’s most impressive performances came at the beginning of 2013, recording back-to-back double-doubles in wins over OVC rivals Tennessee Tech and Jacksonville State. The performances earned Rhett the accolade of OVC player of the week for Jan. 7.
Seniors Michael Green and Chaed Wiellian will join Rhett in the frontcourt. Both served in reserve roles off the bench backing up the solid performing Thornton and Covington. The two are in line for more playing time this season filling the void left by the former Tigers.
Green averaged 3.2 points and 2.2 rebounds a game off the bench for TSU a year ago.
The guard position will have welcomed depth for Coach Williams’ team with Miller, junior Jay Harris, sophomore Jordan Gaither and the return of Jacquan Nobles. Harris spent last year as a reserve playing behind Miller. During Harris’ sophomore season the Philadelphia native averaged 3.2 points, 1.1 assists and 1.2 rebounds per game. Harris was a key defender off the bench for the Tigers a season ago.
Nobles rejoins the TSU roster after spending the past two seasons away from basketball. The 6-3 guard began his career for Tennessee State in 2009 earning a spot on the OVC All-Newcomer team that season after averaging 11.2 points per game while shooting 44% from the field. During his second season in Nashville Nobles led the team with 59 three pointers made while averaging 7.5 points per game.
Forward Alex Bates will join this year's squad after sitting out last season due to NCAA transfer rules. In his two-year stint at Northeastern, Bates played in 26 games, making one start.
Williams will also welcome his first full recruiting class after being named the head coach in 2012. The class includes four freshman and two JUCO transfers.
The freshman class is highlighted by the addition of Ugo Mmonu a wiry 6-7 combo guard from Decatur, Ga.
“I think he’s an incredible talent his best basketball is ahead of him. He has incredible versatility with the ability to play inside-and-out from multiple positions,” Williams said of the newcomer.
Reid is a 6-7 forward who can also play the small forward position and should battle for minutes in the post.
Green and Townes will provide viable depth in the backcourt while gaining valuable experience learning from Miller.
All of this year’s Tiger team will try to build off of last season’s success in hopes of winning the OVC and clinching a berth in the NCAA Tournament. TSU will begin its quest of achieving those goals on Monday night at 7 p.m.