The Sandhills Community College basketball team has ranked in the top five in the nation in points scored per game all but once in Mike Apple’s eight years as the head coach.
The Flyers started their season Saturday with a 104-74 win over Community Christian College in Lancaster, S.C.
The home opener, and the first of eight home dates in a row for the No. 7 ranked Flyers (NJCAA Division III Preseason Poll), is tonight (Wednesday) at 7 p.m. on Student Night against Lenoir CC.
“We’re going to play fast and we’ve got a team that’s tailor made to do that,” Apple said on Wednesday. “Our guarding on defense is something that’s going to be a wow factor for people to come in and watch.
“I feel we’re going to play unselfish basketball and we’ll see a lot of different stars each night to root for and pull for.”
The three leading scorers, leading rebounder and the top three in assists have graduated from a squad that came on strong at the end of the season to post a record of 25-9 and finish fifth at the NJCAA Division III National Championship in Rochester, Minn., last March.
Sayaun Dent, a 6-foot-3 forward, is the leading scorer (10.7 ppg) and rebounder (6.2) among the six returnees. The product of West Bladen High School scored in double figures 19 times. The roster also includes three players that redshirted a year ago and six freshmen.
“There is a lot of learning even for the sophomores,” said Evan Davis, a 6-7 forward from Garner High School. “Last year we had people like Donnie (Haith), Chase (Morissette-Barnett) and Damauri (Sexton) to lead us. As sophomores we’re growing into a new role. It’s a new challenge for us, but I think it’s going pretty well.”
A redshirt freshman at Fayetteville State a year ago, Apple considers 5-10 Corry Addison his most experienced point guard. He was an all-conference and all-district player for a Fairmont High School team that compiled a record of 80-8 while he was there.
Nathan Yow, a 6-0 freshman from Grace Christian, brings speed and creativity to the position and can connect from distance. The third man at the position is returnee Niem Ratliffe who drained 133 treys and averaged 17 points per game in his three years at Scotland County High School.
Devian Smith, who started in 16 of the last 19 games at the point a year ago, will redshirt this season.
“Corry gives us a very quick and explosive player at that position,” Apple says. “Nathan sees the floor very well and he’s strong and physical. He’s going to open up the floor for us because he can shoot the ball.
“You pair him with Nathan and Niem, who are both excellent perimeter shooters, and I think it’s a really good combination for us.”
The starting wings who got a taste of national tournament experience, though they did not participate are 6-1 redshirt sophomore Elijah Idlett and 6-2 redshirt freshman Savion Staton. The latter can score from inside and out, and was the team’s leading scorer at the recent scrimmages.
Returnees at the position are a couple of rugged and aggressive defenders in 6-1 Winston Bryan and 6-1 Tyrell Allmond. who is also a strong driver to the basket. The other wing is 6-0 freshman Zion Bailey.
Born in Queens, N.Y., Idlett averaged 12.0 points and 8.4 rebounds two years ago at Finger Lakes CC in upstate New York.
“The snow was crazy,” he said, ”but I got through it. I had a good experience there. I like how we play hard. I like how we are all on the same page. Good things happen when you play together.
“The biggest thing is that everyone wants to win. That’s what I like so much about the program. I love being here.”
Apple looks at the wing position as one with a lot of interchangeable parts.
“They are all strong guys and we’re really going to be able to put pressure on the other team’s perimeter people,” he said. “Elijah is a hungry player because he didn’t get to play last year. Winston has bided his time to get an opportunity. You like to have guys that lead by example and nobody practices harder than Winston.”
The forwards in addition to Davis are 6-4 returnee Cameron Williams, 6-5 redshirt freshman Charles Thomas, and three true freshmen in 6-5 Derreco Miller, 6-7 Cameron Richardson and 6-7 Collin Medins.
Other than Davis and Williams, it is an inexperienced group.
“I’m really excited because I think you are going to see a tremendous amount of growth in them this year because they are all starting to get it,” Apple said. “Evan played in an ultra-successful program at Garner High School. I think he understands what goes into success and winning. He’s a very smart player.
“The thing Evan does really well on defense is positioning himself between the rim and the ball and just clogging things up.”
The Road Back to Minnesota
Region 10 is again a three-team conference that also includes Central Carolina CC and Johnston CC. Two games against Oxford Emory of Region 17 will be included to complete a six-game conference schedule. Eight games against NJCAA Division I and II teams add strength to the schedule.
Apple is 199-67 in in his career at Sandhills. He is again being assisted by Scott Bender and former Flyer sharp-shooter Josh Smith. Student assistants this year are Cade Cross and Kenneth Winfield. In addition to Devian Smith, other players redshirting are Will Boyd, Keagan Brayboy, Josh Coulter, Ahmad McKnight, King Medley and Joshua Robinson, Jr.
Six Flyers from last year’s team received scholarships to play basketball at four-year schools. That is also Bryan’s goal.
“I know this is my most important season of basketball,” the Dudley High School grad said. “I don’t have a scholarship offer and that’s what I’m trying to attain before I leave here. I’m just locked in every day in practice and ready for the games.
“The team chemistry has always been good here at Sandhills. Last year was like a big family and we just carried that into this year. Coach’s philosophy has always been to play hard and fast and put up a lot of points on the board. We won’t have any problem being in the top five in scoring like we were last year.”
This article was provided by the SCC athletics department.