Going into the 2016-2017 season, Florida A&M University’s men’s basketball team is eager to be eligible to attend the postseason this year.
Although the team is still under APR-related sanctions, the NCAA felt that the third-year head coach Byron Samuels has shown just enough progress to get the team's postseason ban lifted for the first time since the 2013-2014 seasons, giving the Rattlers a chance to compete for a shot at the title.
With the Rattlers just closing in on a three-year Nike deal, it seems as though everything is going in the right direction for the program after recently signing seven new athletes to the program: five junior college transfers and two freshmen. The team even traveled to Montreal, Can. this past summer for an exhibition tournament.
Team captain Elijah Mays, senior point guard from Orlando, Fla., explained how the trip to Montreal was an eye-opener.
“The team gained a lot from going to Montreal,” Mays said. “We got a chance to learn the ins and outs of each other’s tendencies on the court, which I feel will help us during the season and really bond off the court, and get to know one another on a person level.”
Among those seven new signees were Marcus Barham, Nasir Core, Derrick Dandridge, Brendon Myles, Andrew Smith, Desmond Williams, and Leon Williams.
But one face that seems to never get old is junior guard Craig Bowman. He’s seen and played with different teammates every year, and has been with the program since coach Samuels arrived before the 2014-2015 season, averaging 11.6 ppg last year and finishing in the team’s top two scorers.
“I believe this year is the year for tremendous improvement. We have talented players on this team, so that being said it’s time to win,” Bowman said.
Samuels said he decided to recruit from the junior college level instead of the high school level because they could quickly turn the program around.
“I felt that the guys I was looking at could come in and help right away because of their experience at the college level, and that they could help turn this program around right away,” Samuels said.
Barham, who attended Wallace State Community College last year where he averaged 12 ppg, said each team member brings something different to the game.
“Everyone brings a different element to the game this year, and I think because of that we will surprise people and do big things in the conference,” Barham said.
Desmond Williams, who the coach says continues to show improvement with his athletic ability every day in practice, averaged 15.7 ppg last year at Alabama State Community College but voiced his opinion on how points aren’t a priority to him.
“Points aren’t a priority to me,” Williams said. “I just want to win the conference championship and go to the NCAA tournament, and help my team be successful.”
Some notable achievements from the rest of the new signings include:
Nasir Core, averaged 10.8 ppg at Freedom high school last year, and led his team to three district 7-A championships, and also was an All-western conference selection.
Derrick Dandridge, who the coaches praise for being a versatile inside and outside forward, helped his high school team become one of the best top 25 ranked teams by USA Today.
Brendon Myles, made first team All-state, averaged 20 ppg and 11 rebounds at Whitefield Academy and graduated with a 3.6 GPA winning three times All-academic winner.
Andrew Smith, averaged 9 ppg, 8 rebounds and finished with 52 blocks of the season last year at Columbia State Community College.
The Rattlers open up their season against the University of South Florida Bulls Nov. 11 at 7:00 p.m. in Tampa, Fla.