By Kevin Russell, Sports Editor
The High Point University men’s basketball team will take to the court in the Mills Center tonight to begin their 2012 season against the Spartans of UNC Greensboro.
The Panthers return to regular game action for the first time since their disappointing 25-point loss to the Bulldogs of UNC Asheville in last year’s conference tournament. Last season, the Panthers finished with a 13-18 record and ended up eighth in the conference.
For the first time under Head Coach Scott Cherry, the Panthers will not rely upon the electric scoring ability of Nick Barbour (graduated), but rather a more balanced offensive attack. In order to fill the void left by Barbour and fellow teammate Shay Shine (graduated), the Panthers have brought in eight new players, all of whom are expected to compete for playing time.
“I feel very strongly that we’re going to get balanced production from every single position this year,” said Cherry. “We have incredible competition and great depth across this team which is great for us moving forward.”
The two biggest and most anticipated additions to the team this year are John Brown and Allan Chaney.
Brown, a highly touted recruit from Florida, who was on campus last year taking classes while being ineligible to play, will join the Panthers this season as a redshirt freshman. He is expected to be a huge factor on the glass, as well as a threat to score the basketball.
Chaney, who comes to HPU as a graduate student is also expected to be a big time post presence, along with being a guy who can step out and hit some big shots. Chaney, who was ranked 64th coming out of high school in 2008 by ESPN, has not played since 2009 due to injuries and NCAA transfer rules.
“Both guys are unbelievable talents,” said Cherry. “They’re both very versatile in that they can score around the basket as well as step out and hit jump shots. When you add these two guys to some of the other pieces we have, it gives us great depth. We will no longer have that drop off from our first five to our next group that comes in.”
Along with the eight newcomers on this Panther team, there are also eight returners who will look to improve upon last year’s record. Key returners for the Panthers this season include seniors Jairus Simms, Corey Law and Branamir Mikulic, as well as junior Justin Cheek and sophomore Devante Wallace.
“We need all the guys that are returning to help lead the younger guys,” said Cherry. “We need them to show them the ropes and just make sure they know what’s going on in terms of our system.”
While on paper the Panthers seem filled with many unknowns, the coaches seem very optimistic and excited. Picked to finish third in the Big South northern division behind Campbell and VMI, the Panthers figure to be right in the thick of what is a wide open Big South Conference.
“I think a lot of people are going to be surprised this year by the talent level, not only from our team, but throughout the conference,” said Cherry. “There are a lot of teams that have a bunch of new players, so it’s going to be a wide open, but fun year in the Big South Conference.”