For the past two seasons, the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff men's basketball team had the luxury of having one of the nation's top players in Martaveous McKnight at their disposal, but the Golden Lions will have to find comfort elsewhere in 2019.
"We you lose a guy like McKnight, who was a big-time scorer, everybody wants to step up and take his place," Coach George Ivory said. "He was a great player. I think the guys are adjusting well, though. But at the end of the day, I think the cream will come to the top."
McKnight seemingly played at an apex level on a nightly basis during his stint with UAPB.
The two-time, All-Southwestern Athletic Conference performer averaged 19.7 points, 6.7 assists and 3.7 rebounds en route to being named the SWAC Player of the Year and Newcomer of the Year during 2017-2018 season. McKnight increased his scoring output (20.8) and rebound (5.0) last season, which earned him BOXTOROW first-team All-American honors, and was recently selected as a third-round pick by the Delaware Blue Coats in the NBA G League Draft.
UAPB, which finished 13-19 a year ago and lost in the quarterfinals of the conference tournament, may not have a capable replacement for a guy who scored 1,300 points in just two years, but if anyone is able to get the most out of his players, it's Ivory.
In his first 11 seasons at the helm, the 54-year-old who is set to be inducted into the SWAC Hall of Fame in December, has routinely scheduled a brutal nonconference schedule filled with mid-major and major conference teams in order to get his team prepared for their conference slate. The tactic has worked because UAPB has won 56 percent of its SWAC games under Ivory.
But this year, his 12th with the team, could prove to be challenging. Not only do the Golden Lions have to account for McKnight's departure, but they also have to replace Charles Jackson, a former first-team, all-conference pick who played in 119 games during his four-year career. Jackson was the third-leading scorer for UAPB last season and is currently playing professionally in the Aragatz BC Professional Basketball Club in the Middle East.
Ivory, however, won't be working with a bare cupboard. UAPB has a host of players who were on the team last year and signed six more in May.
"We've got some guys back that'll help us out, especially with scoring," Ivory said. "I think that'll be something that we can do collectively. The team has been working hard and trying to improve.
"That aspect has been the biggest thing so far. ... just getting better every day."
One player that could ascend into more of a scoring role is junior Shaun Doss. The 6-5 forward was named to the preseason All-SWAC second team after averaging 12.7 points, 4.2 rebounds and 2 assists as a junior. The former Marion standout scored at least 10 points in 20 of the team's 32 games last year, including a pair of 25-point outings against Alabama State and Alcorn State.
Another junior who could also see his point production increase is 6-8 forward Terrance Banyard, who was also chosen as a preseason second-team pick. The Milwaukee native started 27 games and averaged nearly seven points and five rebounds per game while ranking fourth in the SWAC in total blocked shots with 38.
Among other returners expected to play larger roles include forward Marquell Carter, a 6-6 senior who averaged 4.5 points and 3.4 rebounds per game, and center Artavious McDyess, a 6-10 junior who shot a team-high 59.6 percent from the floor as a sophomore.
Depth could help the Golden Lions, particularly when conference play begins in January. Transfers DeQuan Morris, a Pine Bluff native, Robert Boyd and Jamil Wilson were all double-digit scorers at the junior college level while Alvin Stredic, a 6-8 freshman forward from Bay City, Texas, was a first-team, all-district selection and averaged 20 points and 14 rebounds as a high school senior.
"It's gelling pretty good," Ivory said in reference to his team establishing a deeper bench. "Everybody is trying to get to know everybody, get the timing down. Offensively and defensively, things are going really well.
"Once we start playing games, get different game speeds, it'll help us out a lot. That's why we try to play the schedule that we play."
As usual, the Golden Lions have a slate chalked full of big-name programs. The Golden Lions will open the year tonight at South Florida, but they also have road dates at No. 8 Gonzaga, Kansas State, Pittsburgh, Tulsa, Oregon State and Washington State just to name a few. The Golden Lions do have a home game against Champion Christian on Nov. 25, but they don't play again at H.O. Clemmons Arena until Jan. 18 against Southern.
Just another ho-hum campaign for Ivory and his troops.
"We're trying to win the regular-season championship and the SWAC Tournament championship," said Ivory, whose team was tabbed to finish seventh. "That's our goals. Everyday, we're going to have to come in and work hard. Get better and truly understand what we're trying to accomplish.
"But we've got to do it the right way with hard work."
Sports on 11/05/2019
Print Headline: Golden Lions hope depth works out