NEW ORLEANS (Oct. 6, 2016) – Following the success of their 2015 season, the Dillard University men’s basketball team hopes to stay at the top in 2016, and they’ve begun with a No. 1 preseason ranking, according to second-year head coach Mike Newell.
The Bleu Devils earned national recognition in the preseason as they were ranked No. 1 in Sporting News magazine’s National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics preseason Top 10. They finished last season with a record of 22 wins and 11 losses, finishing second to No.7-ranked Talladega in the regular season.
The Bleu Devils will play 29 games this season, starting at the Battlefield on Oct. 29 playing against the University of Mobile.
According to Newell, one of the toughest teams they will face is Talladega College, the only other team in the GCAC to be ranked in the Sporting News’ preseason Top 10. They will play the next three games at home against Wayland Baptist on Nov. 5, William Carey University on Nov. 10 and Texas Wesleyan University on Nov. 12.
Eight new players will join the team this year, including three freshmen and five transfer players. Eight of nine players are returning from last season.
Newell said the new additions will help shore up the weaknesses from a year ago, including the inability to shoot consistently from the perimeter and dominating inside to produce point in the paint.
Newell said one of his goals for the season will remain the same by winning both the conference and national tournament this year.
“In order to do that, we got to be able to stay healthy and stay together. If we do that, our experience along with our talent level being higher and motivation will put us in a position to make a run at both titles and be able to defend it,” said Newell.
In Newell’s first-year as head coach, the team gradually improved its record, as they won more games than the previous four seasons combined with a 17-win increase. Following the regular season, they went on to win the Gulf Coast Athletic Conference tournament to earn an at-large bid to the NAIA national tournament in Kansas City, Mo., making their first appearance in the tournament since 2003. Despite defeating Hope International in the first round 111-91, they would go on to lose in the second round to Campbellsville University 81-73, ending their season.
Eight new players will join the team this year, including three freshmen and five transfer players; forward A.J. Riley from Peoria, Ill., a senior, along with guard J.J. Morris of Peoria, Ill., forward Quinton Jackson of Cambridge, Md., center Jalen McGaughy of Dearborn, Mich., and center Dequandre Detmond of East Lansing, Mich., all juniors.
The new freshmen include guard Xavian McKay, New Orleans; forward Jordan Watkins, Pensacola, Fla; and forward Jamerson Roberts, Beaumont, Texas.
Jackson, who transferred from the University of Pikeville, said he looks forward to his first year on the “Battlefield.”
“I feel good so far. I’ve been out for a whole year, and I know that I have a lot of work to do to prove myself, but I am pretty comfortable as I am with two teammates I was with at the last school so I am feeling pretty positive about this season,” said Jackson.
Senior guard Dennis Hightower and senior forward Demetric Austin were also teammates of Jackson at the University of Pikeville before transferring.
The team also has eight out of nine players returning. Returning players include: Hightower, Danville, Ill.; Austin, Washington, D.C.; junior forward Ramon Johnson, Newark, N.J; senior guard Kristian Clark, Ocean Springs, Miss; sophomore guard Montrey Thomas, Shreveport; junior forward Patrick Thompson, Geismar; sophomore guard Jesse Ward, Maringouin; and senior forward Sean Burrell, New Orleans.
Hightower, who also received honorable mentions for the 2016 Sporting News Preseason All-America Team, reflected on how Newell’s coaching has benefited his career.
“Newell is a good guy to be around. He is an older guy with a young guy’s attitude, and he can relate to our problems whether it is on or off the court,” said Hightower.
Two of the returning players who flourished under Newell’s first-year strategy received national accolades from the 2015 season. Austin was named as Dr. Cavil’s 2015-2016 HBCU Men’s Mid-Major Newcomer of the Year, Men’s Mid-Major Division Second Team HBCU All-American and Second Team NAIA All-American.
Thomas was also named GCAC Freshmen of the Year and Dr. Cavil’s HBCU Men’s Mid-Major Freshmen of the Year.
Newell said his main focus each year is to affect change in all his players through his style of coaching.
“When they leave my program, I want them to leave as a better player than when they got here. I want them to leave as a better person than when they got here. I want them to have had so much fun, so that they are willing to give back to this program and to the university. If they accomplish those things right there, then I have done my job,” said Newell.