UT MARTIN MEN'S BASKETBALL LOOKS TO FLY HIGH UNDER NEW LEADERSHIP IN 2016-17
November 8, 2016
MARTIN, Tenn. – Eight months after the University of Tennessee at Martin men’s basketball program came closer to reaching an NCAA Tournament berth than any other team in its Division-I history, the Skyhawks are hungry for more in 2016-17 under first-year head coach Anthony Stewart.
Last March, UT Martin made its first-ever appearance in the Ohio Valley Conference Tournament championship game. Earning the tournament’s No. 2 seed via the first OVC West division title in school history, the Skyhawks were upset in the finals by No. 8 seed Austin Peay.
Although UT Martin would win a game in the 2016 CollegeInsider.com Postseason Tournament (the program’s fourth postseason victory in the last two years), the seven Skyhawk returners were left with a craving that hovered around throughout the spring and into the summer.
“It was key last year to almost get to the pinnacle,” said Stewart, the 10th head coach in UT Martin men’s basketball history. “That gave us a taste of success. It just goes to show our players that if they buy into the system and what we are trying to do as a whole, together we can achieve just about anything that we set out to accomplish. We have built a culture here and the guys have come together as a team, building camaraderie and team chemistry.”
Stewart, who was elevated after serving as the Skyhawks’ associate head coach for the past two seasons, expects UT Martin to have plenty of weapons in 2016-17 despite the loss of four starters.
“I really like our depth,” Stewart said. “We have a little more depth at each position as opposed to the last two years where we only played six or maybe seven guys. I also like our ability to score. In the past, we had a couple of main scorers but we could possibly have five guys on the floor at any time that can score this year.”
While scoring and offensive balance may be one of the team’s biggest strengths, Stewart foresees a defensive squad that will wreak havoc on its opponents.
“We will be very defensive minded,” Stewart said. “We are playing matchup zone and mixing up our defenses from man to zone with a little bit of full-court and half-court pressure. We hope to be opportunistic on defense and be able to get scoring out of our defense.”
Kedar Edwards is one of five seniors on the Skyhawk roster and is also the lone returning starter. The 6-5, 200-pound forward averaged 8.2 points per outing last season and was named to this year’s College Sports Madness Preseason All-OVC team after ranking sixth in the league in rebounding (7.2 per game) and steals (1.5 per game) in 2015-16.
“Kedar will be our mainstay on the wing,” Stewart said. “He’s a high-energy guy who is a tremendous rebounder and a tremendous offensive rebounder. He’s been working hard on his jumpshot and is coming along well with his all-around game.”
UT Martin’s leading returning scorer is Jacolby Mobley, who tossed in 10.8 points per game last season. The slashing guard was named the OVC’s Sixth Man of the Year by HoopsHD.com last year and will evolve into a starting role in 2016-17.
“Jacolby is a very good player who plays hard and plays the right way,” Stewart said. “He can really score it in various ways – whether it’s on the drive or from his jumpshot, which is very good.”
The additional trio of seniors will look to bolster the Skyhawk frontline. Javier Martinez boasts 29 career starts and is a career 67 percent (152-for-226) shooter from the field. Chandler Rowe made 11 of his 20 career starts last season and made 52 percent (26-of-50) of his field goal attempts in 2015-16. Malik London is in his second season in the program and played well in spurts last year.
“Both Javier and Chandler are in their fourth years in this program,” Stewart said. “Javier is just a grinder who gives you everything he has. He’s not the tallest guy but he’s just strong, gives you effort and runs the court with enthusiasm. Chandler will get a lot of minutes because you know what you’re going to get with him. He’s going to bring intensity, intelligence and hard work. Malik will also see some time at the 5 spot. He’s very athletic, he just needs to put it all together – he has all the tools.”
Another returner who expects to push for a starting spot is redshirt sophomore Fatodd Lewis. The 6-8, 215-pound forward displayed flashes of potential last year and showed improvement and consistency during offseason workouts.
“Fatodd will probably get a majority of the minutes to begin the season and he’s earned that,” Stewart said. “He is as physically gifted and talented as they come. His confidence is high right now and he’s learned how to work.”
Nick Detlev rounds out the returning players, as the 7-2 redshirt sophomore continues to progress after getting his first dose of collegiate basketball in 2015-16.
“Nick is a great kid who has a great attitude,” Stewart said. “We are starting to see glimpses of what he can do – he just has to continue down that road and continue the upward trend of getting better every day.”
Although Matthew Butler and Malik Pugh did not see official game action last year, the duo practiced with the team for the entire season after transferring in from Division-I institutions. Both will log minutes at point guard in addition to junior college transfer Jalen Jackson (12.0 points per game for a 30-win Neosho County Community College team that won its first-ever Region championship last year).
“Those three battle every day for playing time but right now, Matthew will be heading up the point guard position,” Stewart said. “Matthew began his career at Rhode Island and is a very intelligent individual who has learned to work hard for longer periods of time. We are really looking forward to Matthew leading this team. We also like what Malik brings to the table after he studied the offense last season transferring in from UNC Wilmington. Jalen can do a lot of things and he knows how to win, coming from a very successful junior college program in Ohio.”
One of Stewart’s most versatile options is newcomer Dante Bailey, a 6-6, 220-pound junior out of Seminole State College. He averaged 18.2 points per game and scored at least 20 points in a dozen games last year – including three 30-plus point performances.
“We could see Dante play the 2, the 3 or the 4 spot,” Stewart said. “He has gotten his body in shape by losing some weight and has also taken to coaching very well. Listening has become one of his best skills.”
Three more junior college transfers project for significant minutes in the UT Martin backcourt. Kahari Beaufort was responsible for 12 games of at least 20 points while averaging 16.3 points per outing at Angelina College last season. AJ Nywesh is a high-volume scorer who tallied 21.3 points per game in 2015-16 at Lake Region State College, where he poured in 1,000 career points. Travaun Coad gives the Skyhawks a long-range shooter who can stretch opposing defenses after connecting on 39 percent of his three-point attempts at Midland College last season.
“Kahari is a talented offensive player who can score in a variety of ways,” Stewart said. “We just need to get him up to speed with his defense and his intensity. AJ and Travaun can also affect the game in a lot of ways with their offensive capabilities. We are looking for both of those guys to provide some scoring punch.”
The lone freshman on the UT Martin roster is Mike Fofana, a 6-8, 190-pound product out of Whitehaven High School in Memphis. He was a top-15 prospect in the Tennessee prep ranks and will look to contribute as he adjusts to the collegiate game.
“Mike comes from a well-coached high school program,” Stewart said. “He has held his own throughout the preseason and his potential is off the charts.”
When all is said and done, if the Skyhawks simply play unselfish basketball with intensity on both ends of the floor, Stewart believes success will come UT Martin’s way once again.
“Our calling card will be how hard we play,” Stewart said. “That’s what we want to be known for. As long as we play hard, execute and play together, I like our chances.”