All the talk has been about the start of college football season this weekend, but the Charlotte 49ers will get a head start on men's basketball season.
The 49ers leave today for three games in three days in Canada, where Charlotte will face the University of Toronto, York University and Sheridan College before returning Monday evening.
All but one of the 14 players on Charlotte's roster will make the trip, including newcomers RaShad Coleman and Shamarr Bowden. Forward Shamari Spears, a transfer from Boston College, cannot travel. He must sit out this season per NCAA rules, but can practice with the team.
The 49ers, who return four starters from a team that won 20 games and advanced to the National Invitation Tournament last season, welcome the games and additional practice time they got this week.
“To not have the pressure of a regular game and just that time together, I think is valuable,” coach Bobby Lutz said. “We miss no class and we go away and spend time together without anybody else bothering us or distracting us.”
Lutz plans to give playing time to everyone on the roster who is healthy. Sophomore forward Gaby Ngoundjo won't see action as he is recovering from a foot injury, and Coleman turned an ankle in practice Tuesday and could be forced to stay on the bench.
“I want to give as many guys as possible the chance to show what they are capable of doing. We don't always have that opportunity during the season with the schedule we play,” Lutz said.
“I'm going to use this as an evaluation period. We certainly don't have everything in place offensively and defensively, but it's more important we get to let everybody play and look at different lineups.
“This is a very deep team. I really do think we will be struggling early on (with) who we are going to play. That's a nice problem to have.”
One clear priority for Lutz is evaluating options to replace last season's leading scorer, Leemire Goldwire, who graduated in May. Coleman, Bowden and redshirt freshman Javarris Barnett should figure in that decision.
Coleman and Bowden have already distinguished themselves in practice with their shooting range, and an intense workout regiment last season has Barnett, who played at Charlotte Victory Christian, looking more like a forward than a shooting guard.
“We've played a lot during the summer, but not in a structured setting like practice or like the games in Canada. I'm glad we get to do this,” Bowden said. “I'm so anxious to get to play college basketball.”
Junior center Phil Jones, who saw limited action last season, has spent the past week going toe-to-toe with Spears under the basket and with impressive results.
“I got my weight down. I'm moving better to the ball, scoring better, overall I just feel real good,” said Jones. “The addition of Shamari is really awesome. He is such a great competitor and he forces me to compete harder.
“I think we will find out a lot about ourselves this weekend.”