Your team won the MEAC championship as well as a game in the NCAA tournament last year, but you are picked to finish fourth in the conference. How do you feel about that?
Coach Mike Gillespie Sr.: I think it’s the right assessment. We lost Terrence (Woods), Demarcus (Wilkins) and Moses (White). I think we’re better than fourth. But I think we’re one of the top three teams in the league. Based upon who’s coming back, South Carolina State and Coppin (State) in my opinion are the top two teams because they have the most starters coming back. I think a lot of things are unknown about our team. No matter where you’re picked in the preseason, it’s how you play in the last three days in the (MEAC) tournament that is going to determine whether or not you get to the tournament.
You lost over 50 percent of your offense in Woods, Wilkins and White, who is going to step in and fill the scoring void?
Terrence and Demarcus probably average almost 30-40 points a game. This year I don’t think we’re going to have anybody be as prolific as Terrence averaging 20 points a game. I think on any given night we could have a different leading scorer. But with that said I think Jonathon Kelly is a guy that’s going to have to step up his scoring being the sixth man now going to be a starter. Michael Harper has to score the ball for us and Tony Tate the point guard coming back from last year. A newcomer that we have, Darius Glover, a 6-foot-5 forward out of Chicago, a junior college player, we’re going to count on Darius to score us some points too. So, I think we’re going to be more balanced this year with our scoring. .
As far as injuries are concerned, Richard Russel and Darious Glover were hurt earlier this semester, how are their injuries going and is anyone else banged up?
Well, Michael Harper has a broken nose. Darius had double hernia surgery. He’s still not back yet. Rick’s ankle is still iffy. Jeremy Henderson has a sprained big toe. Calvin Henry, one of our star freshmen, a six-foot-seven young man out of Orlando is gonna be a great player has an abdominal injury. We’re not sure what it is. We’ve had a multitude of injuries. So, we really haven’t had a consistent group of people at practice. Right now, I’d say the most pressing injury is Michael Harper’s nose. He’s scheduled to have surgery. Darius has not come back from his surgery and we’re really worried about Calvin Henry right now. We don’t what actually could be wrong. We have to get Calvin straightened out so Calvin can play for us this year
How has those injuries to such key players affected the roster this year?
Well, it does. Nick, if someone has to have some surgery their freshmen year they’ll probably redshirt. OJ (Sumter) is still having problems with his knee. He’s gonna play this year. Michael Harper being a fifth-year senior still has to have the surgery, wear the mask and play. Tony’s injury, we think he’ll be able to overcome it. Rick if he doesn’t come back from the injury he’ll probably be better off with a redshirt, instead of trying to play him while he’s hurt. Darius will play, once that hernia heals. We’re hoping to have Darius by maybe Thanksgiving time. I don’t know if he’ll play that first weekend against Michigan State and Illinois. But I think we’ll have him back that next weekend when we go down to play FIU (Florida International University) down there in Miami.
I saw Byron Taylor him last season in the Breakdown Shootout while he was playing at Florida High and he was spectacular, why is he redshirting this season?
With Tony being a junior and we’ve got another freshmen by the name of Jay Thomas who’s an outstanding player, we just thought if Byron stayed healthy and got stronger physically we could sit him out this year and back up Tony next year.
You’ve got six players on the roster that weren’t with you last year, do you think you are going to have trouble gelling as a team early in the season?
Well it’s not a problem. It’s just been difficult in regards to teaching the way we want to play. We’re still making a lot of mistakes right now in practice. But that happens with any newcomer. Some of them are freshmen, some of them are JuCo (Junior College) transfers, some of them are transfers. You know, it’s taking us a little bit of time to get things organized. We’ve been hurt a little bit in practice and we’ve got some new guys number one. Number two with injuries and number three with the school. That whole week of homecoming we couldn’t practice in the gym. We were over at TCC at 5:30 in the morning. We’ve missed a couple of days of practice in our gym because it’s so humid that the floor is so slippery that we can’t practice. So, those little things also people don’t realize, hurt your development because you miss days of practice. It’s hard to play Michigan State and Illinois, two top 10 teams in the nation in the same week and you’ve missed days of practice.
Last year the team thrived on the outside particularly the three point shot because of the absence of your two top shooters, will you guys focus more on the inside as opposed to the outside?
I think it will. Yet, the other night in our exhibition against Saint Leo we were 9-20 from the 3-point line. So, we still look to shoot the three. I think our focus has to be inside first outside second.
Because you won the conference championship last year, do you guys feel like you have a bulls eye on your chest or feel any added pressure to win?
I think we had more pressure last year because we were preseason number. Terrence was preseason player of the year. This year we were picked fourth and in some magazines we were picked ninth. It really doesn’t matter were we’re picked. I know how good this team can be.
Contact Nick Birdsong at email@example.com