GREENSBORO, NC – It is an annual obstacle the coaches of all college sports face – replace the student-athletes who have graduated after outstanding four-year careers.
But for this basketball season, it is easy to say that quite possibly no coach at UNCG has ever had to replace the contribution of one student-athlete more so than what Mike Dement has to do entering the 2008-09 basketball season.
Along with the graduation of Kevin Oleksiak and Dwayne Johnson – four-year starters and milestone setters in their own rights – Dement will have to replace the most prolific player in 40 years of Spartan basketball in Kyle Hines.
Oleksiak was a 1,000-point scorer who played in more than 100 games. Johnson started more than 100 games as the Spartans point guard over the last four seasons. But Hines was in rare air.
He became the 96th player in college basketball history to record 2,000 points and 1,000 rebounds in a career, and just the sixth to do that duo along with 300 career blocked shots. He re-wrote UNCG's record books over the last four years and had his number retired for it while he was still active.
And so now, after most things the Spartans ran have run through Hines over the last couple of seasons, Dement is faced with an architectural remodeling of sorts. That begins Friday night when the Spartans hit the floor for their first preseason practice.
"It sounds cliché, but you don't replace Kyle Hines," said Dement. "Those three individuals – Kyle, Kevin and Dwayne – did so much for this program. Their names are engraved in our records, Kyle's only more so. They took the expectations of this program to another level in beating an ACC team on its own floor last season. Now, we have to go to another level – without them to carry us – to continue to grow."
Dement returns a core of players that have seen significant playing time in the last two seasons. All four of those juniors have played significant minutes in virtually every game the last two seasons. Three-point shooting threats Mikko Koivsto and Kendall Toney have been strong contributors in the past who have not gone unnoticed. They will step completely to the forefront this season. It is in the frontcourt, where Pete Brown and Ben Stywall will step out of Hines' shadow and make names for themselves this season.
"Ben and Pete have made their contributions the last two seasons," said Dement. "People didn't talk about them because you heard so much about Hines.
"The fact of the matter is Ben has been among the league leaders in rebounding the last two seasons, including an all-freshman selection two years ago, and Pete gave us good minutes on a consistent basis. There were a couple of nights where Hines got in foul trouble or he needed an extended rest and Pete gave us a big lift. Now, it is their turn, along with some emerging freshmen, to step into the spotlight."
Stywall, a 6-5 junior from Charlotte, NC, has averaged 7.4 points and 6.3 rebounds per game over the last two seasons. Starting 57 of the 61 games he has appeared in over those two years, he has scored in double figures 16 times thus far in his career, including 12 games of 10 or more points last season. He shot an even 50 percent from the floor last year, while averaging 6.2 rebounds per game. His scoring increased from his freshman to sophomore seasons by more than three points per game, an increase that Dement would like to see continue.
"Ben's role, obviously, changes a little this year. We know what he is capable of. He nearly had a double-double in the win at Georgia Tech last year (nine points, 10 rebounds) and also at home against Kent State (nine points and eight rebounds). We think he is up to the challenge of an increased offensive role."
Brown, a 6-6 junior from Emerson, NJ, has appeared in all 61 games the last two seasons, playing double-digit minutes in nearly half of them. After averaging 1.3 points per game over his first two seasons, though, there's no question that the Spartans will look to Brown for a greater role this season.
"Pete has done well at what he has been asked to do to this point," said Dement. "As the first post player off the bench, he needed to jump in for Ben or Kyle whenever called upon and he filled that role pretty well. This now becomes his time."
That's very similar to how Brown's high school career was, though. Playing at Don Bosco Prep along the central New Jersey coast, Brown was the understudy to John Oates (Boston College) and Tyrell Biggs (Pittsburgh) before becoming the leading man as a senior. Then, he earned all-league honors and averaged a double-double per game.
Toney and Koivisto give the Spartans a lethal outside presence. Last year, they became the third and fourth players in school history to surpass 100 career three-pointers as a sophomore – joining Scott Hartzell (who holds every UNCG career three-point record) and Jay Joseph (the school's all-time leading scorer before Hines broke his mark).
Koivisto, a junior from Vantaa, Finland, knocked down 80 three-pointers last season – second most to Hartzell in school history. Coming out of a summer appearance with the Finnish National Team, Koivisto enters this year with a streak of 24 straight games with a trey (third longest in UNCG history). Last season, he shot 45.5 percent from three-point range, second best in the Southern Conference.
Koivisto averaged 10.9 ppg, a fact that was overshadowed at all-conference voting time due to the attention that Hines drew. Koivisto's 80 treys were third most in the league behind Davidson's Stephen Curry and Chattanooga's Stephen McDowell. He enters the season with 137 career treys.
Toney comes in this season with 105 treys in his career. With Kevin Oleksiak still in the line-up last season, the Spartans had the luxury of bringing Toney off the bench – a role that he seemed more comfortable in. Whether that luxury can be afforded this season remains to be seen.
Toney, a native of Charlotte, NC, connected on just a shade under 40 percent of his treys last season, averaging 7.3 ppg off the bench. Against USC Upstate, Toney flirted with an NCAA record when he knocked down his first eight three-pointers of the night.
The old saying that the best thing about freshmen is that they become sophomores is true for Landon Clement and Daniel Oliver. A year under their belts in the UNCG system has been instrumental in their development. Clement played 25 games last season. Oliver played in 30 and made a pair of starts. Understudies to Dwayne Johnson last season, they, too, step into the spotlight a little more so this season.
"They both had the type of freshmen seasons that you expect," said Dement. "They both became more comfortable as the year went on. Early in the season, we played at Missouri State without Johnson after he went down the night before. We turned to Landon and Daniel to try to lead us and they weren't really ready for that role. But as the year went on, you saw their development progress."
Those two sophomores, though, won't be faced with carrying the burden by themselves this season. Junior Montel Smith comes to UNCG after two seasons at Brunswick CC where he averaged nearly five assists per game for the last two seasons. Becoming the full-time starter for the Dolphins last season, he helped that squad to a conference title.
Further along the lines of newcomers, three are expected to help bolster the frontcourt. Redshirt freshman DeAngelo Jackson joins the active roster after sitting out and practicing with the squad last year. At 6-9, DeAngelo is UNCG's tallest player while being very athletic.
Incoming freshmen Elhanan Bone and Damian Eargle are also expected to contribute immediately. Bone, a native of Sandersville, GA, is a big body at 6-7, 235 lbs. He was a three-year starter at Washington County HS, where he was the first player in the last 16 years to sign a Division I basketball offer.
Eargle, at 6-7, 200 lbs., was the MVP of the Kentucky-Ohio all-star game last year. Twice an all-state honorable mention selection at Harding HS in Warren, OH, Eargle helped lead his team to the regional finals last year, averaging 13.6 points and nine rebounds per game. Some recruiting services rated Eargle a three-star recruit.
"All three of them will have an impact in our frontcourt. DeAngelo obviously has familiarity with our system having redshirted last season. Elhanan and Damian are learning as they go, but we've seen some good things from them in the early workouts."
The Spartans will be without sophomore Darrius Sellers in the frontcourt. Sellers suffered an injury in preseason and will use his medical redshirt this season.
The Spartans will also carry a pair of walk-ons. Junior guard Mike Hardiman returns for his third season and will be joined by redshirt sophomore Sean Spooner. Spooner played his high school basketball with Clement at Raleigh's Sanderson HS.
Things you should know...
-- Most UNCG practices are open to the public. For the first two days, UNCG will practice from 5-7:30 pm on Friday and go twice on Saturday -- 11 am to 1 pm and 5-7 pm. The team is planning an early practice for Sunday before taking time off for the university's fall break session. (UNCG students have off from Friday evening through Tuesday.)
-- UNCG will not play an open exhibition game during the preseason this year, opting rather to play closed scrimmages against North Carolina A&T and Winthrop. (Under NCAA rules, those are closed to the public.) Therefore, the best chance to catch an early glimpse of the squad is the Blue-Gold game on Oct. 25.
-- Speaking of Blue-Gold, that will be the last opportunity to take advantage of the special $10 ticket price for the Feb. 5 game with Davidson at the Greensboro Coliseum. (Regular ticket prices will range between $15 and $50.) The Blue-Gold game will get underway at 5 pm on Saturday, Oct. 25 -- giving fans the chance to catch the intrasquad scrimmage and then go to the UNCG-Elon men's soccer match at 7 pm. The scrimmage should last a little over an hour. For Spartan Club members, there is a reception scheduled for the time between the two events.
-- Season ticket packages are still available, as are partial season ticket plans. Most of the packages do include the Davidson game on February 5. For more information, click here.
-- Single-game tickets are on sale at this time. The new print at home ticket system through UNCGSpartans.com is expected to be ready for basketball sales around Oct. 20. It can be found here.
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