CIAA Basketball: Livingstone men's preview
By Ronnie Gallagher
In his five seasons as Livingstone men’s basketball coach, James Stinson has brought stability back to the Blue Bears program.
Entering his sixth season, he’s ready to win on a consistent basis.
The last two teams have finished 14-14 but last year was frustrating. The Blue Bears lost several close games that went down to the wire.
“A lot of close games,” Stinson sighed.
He also lost his three top players in All-CIAA star Tayloe Taylor, Santonio Springs and William Bryant. But Stinson sees a bright future with a collection of improved returning players, key transfers and a good recruiting class.
“I think our strength is team camaraderie,” Stinson said. “They like each other and they’re buying into the system. Our weakness is just being young. We need to work together.”
Stinson likes what he sees in 6-foot-4 sophomore Greg Henry, who was named to the CIAA All-Rookie team. He averaged just 1.9 but showed flashes of his offense with one 13-point effort.
“I’m looking for him to be somebody we rely on defensively,” Stinson said. “He’s got offensive abilities. He has matured a lot.”
The inside presence will be provided by 6-9 Keith Darden, a sophomore. Stinson says Darden is a raw talent. He had three 14-point outings and had double-figure rebounding games. Now, Stinson wants consistency.
“We want him to alter shots and finish inside,” he said.
A 3-point shooter, 6-3 junior guard Donte Durant averaged 4.9 points in his sophomore season. His high last year was 19 points.
“He’s served his time,” Stinson said. “He has added to his game. He’ll have to help us defensively.”
Setting up Durant on the wing is 6-1 senior point guard Aaron Caruthers, who played at North Florida for three seasons. He is his high school’s all-time leading scorer.
“He brings experience,” Stinson said. “He’s a smart floor general. He’s a 4.0 student. He can score for us but he’ll try to get everybody else involved.”
An unknown quantity with a big-time background is 6-9 junior Virgil Taylor, who started his college career at TCU. In high school at Irmo, S.C., he played in the N.C.-S.C. All-Star game, was a Nike All-American and was a McDonald’s nominee.
“He can score around the basket,” Stinson said. “I’m expecting him to come along slowly. He’ll bring an inside presence.”
Other transfers need to come through, including Magail Cannon of Central Arkansas and Jarred Stockton, a 6-5 guard who played at Jacksonville University.
And then, there are the Freeman brothers, both 6-1 guards from Skyline Junior College in California.
Stinson chuckled when asked about the lookalikes.
“I don’t want to mix them up,” he joked.
Rodney was in the top 10 in the state in free-throw percentage (84) and steals. Ronney shot 45 percent on his 3-pointers and averaged 12.8 points.
The Freemans were actually discovered by assistant Michael Cheaney while they were on a southern tour. Both wanted to play on the east coast and Cheaney’s recruiting pitch lured them to Monroe Street.
“Ronney can create his own shot and he shoots the ball very well,” Stinson said. “He provides a spark. Rodney’s good from 15 feet in.”
The freshman class includes West Rowan’s 6-1 Kaleb Kimber, 6-2 Eric Salters and 6-0 Jeremy Ford, all guards, and 6-5 center Tyler Johnson.
“Ford is a presidential scholar,” Stinson noted. “He’s a smart young man. He needs to learn how to be a solid point guard.”
Kimber helped lead Mike Gurley’s team at West to 26 wins last season but has been hampered by a bad back.
“He’s coming around,” Stinson said. “He has a good work ethic and will provide quality minutes.”
Scoring is nice, but Stinson hangs his hat on defense.
“We want to keep people to 67, 68 points,” he said. “We’re going to try and get back to that.”
Livingstone gave up an average of 71 last season. Had that average been 67 or 68, the Blue Bears could’ve been a 20-win club.
Livingstone was picked next to last in the CIAA’s Western Division.
“That was based off the previous year,” Stinson said. “I took that as a motivational factor.”
Today at 5 p.m., Livingstone begins its season against Salisbury neighbor Catawba.
“It gauges us exactly where we are,” Stinson said. “It’s exciting opportunity.”
And if it’s a close game, Livingstone wants to reverse last year’s trend.
Livingstone’s photo day for the Post was canceled due to sickness.