SAC Basketball: Catawba men's preview
By Ronnie Gallagher
If senior leadership means anything, mark down the Catawba men’s basketball team for another South Atlantic Conference championship.
“We’ve got four good ones,” understated coach Jim Baker of his senior superlatives.
The rest of the league felt the same way, picking the Indians as the preseason favorite.
Catawba has won back-to-back SAC tournament titles and advanced to the second round of the Division II playoffs a year ago.
“Those four kids could leave out of here with a combined 5,000 points,” Baker said. “They’re probably as good a group of kids as we’ve had.”
It all starts with Antonio Houston, a 6-foot-3 swing man who can light it up.
Houston, who has been the MVP of the conference tournament the last two years, averaged 18.2 points and 5.2 rebounds last season. He enters tonight’s opener against Livingstone (at Pfeiffer) fifth on Catawba’s all-time scoring list with 1,654 points.
Baker jokes about biting his lip when Houston gets on a shooting roll.
“Before I take him out, he’s reeled off six to eight points,” Baker said. “He’s so talented with the ball.”
Houston got off to a good start. He scored 27 points in an exhibition loss to Athletes in Action.
Rob Fields, who averaged 15.9 points as Catawba’s sixth man last year, joins Houston on the preseason all-conference first team. He’s already a 1,000-point scorer.
“He’s one of the quickest guys in the league,” Baker said. “He can get in the lane and hang in the air. He’s the soul of our team.”
Fields also is good in the clutch. His free-throw percentage is 84 percent.
Donald Rutherford can be one of the SAC’s most exciting players. At 6-6, he is a high-flying, dunking machine, who averaged just under 10 points.
“He plays big,” Baker said. His elbows are above the rim.”
Fields and Rutherford came off the bench last season and Baker would like to do it again.
“But Donald has earned the right to start,” Baker said.
Baker’s unsung player is Donzell Williams. He averaged six points, four rebounds and almost four steals.
“If I had to pick an MVP, it’s him,” Baker praised. “He runs the floor and defends. If a guy scores 20 on us in the first half, Donzell will shut him down.”
Joining the seniors is whirling dervish point guard Dominick Reid. The junior averaged 11.5 points and dished out 147 assists in 32 games.
“He’s sort of like an assassin,” Baker said. “He knows everything that’s going on out there. He runs the show. He gets the ball to Tony and Rob where they want it. And he’ll take charge when he has to. He won a couple of games for us.
“Those five are all solid people.”
Baker said Justin Huntley has as good a first step as anyone. Trey Shoemaker is a deft ballhandler. Both are junior guards and fill out a good seven-man rotation.
The rest of the team is young. Baker brought in some new post players.
Stephen Coles is a 6-8, 220-pound freshman from Danville, Va. Lee Martin is a 6-6 freshman from North Surry and Hargrave Military Academy.
“Coles is a hard-nosed, rugged post player,” Baker said. “Martin had three or four Division I offers and everybody in our league recruited the kid. He played behind three or four D-I prospects at Hargrave and he can really shoot it.”
6-5 Stuart Thomson, brother of former Indian, Andy, is a redshirt freshman who hails from England. He hasn’t played in two years after battling cancer.
“Those three kids have to play,” Baker said.
Sophomore Cameron Lovelace was on Bob Gibbons’ radar at Cherryville High School before going to North Florida. He came home to North Carolina and the 6-2 guard landed at Catawba.
“He’s a country boy who might deer hunt on an off day,” Baker smiled. “He can really shoot the ball.”
Redshirt freshman Tomas Smogner, from Sweden, sat out last year. Kelvin Drakeford is a 6-4 walk-on. Matt Tamer is a 6-8 sophomore. Freshman Savey Alston will miss the season with an injury.
Baker enters his 16th season with a 286-155 record. He always wants to score points and this team fits that mold.
“We’ll go up and down the court, play faster, and play more people,” he said. “I’d like to get 80 to 85 and hold teams to 70.”
If he gets the defensive effort, Baker shouldn’t worry about his high preseason ranking. Those seniors will take care of the offense.