Mark Price says he can see a big difference in this year’s Charlotte 49ers men’s basketball team compared to last year’s.
He also sees a difference in himself, now that he’s had a full season as a college head coach under his belt.
That’s why Price is optimistic about the 49ers’ chances to win games this season – both nonconference and in Conference USA – with two weeks to go before their season opener.
“There was a lot of learning going on, in a lot of different areas,” Price said Wednesday. “Now I have a really good idea of what we need to do to be good.
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“We’re trying not to just build a good team from year to year, but to build a program that’s consistently good. That’s the ultimate goal.”
Price, a four-time NBA All-Star and former assistant coach with the NBA’s Charlotte Hornets before taking the Charlotte job, went 14-19 (9-9 C-USA) in his first year as the 49ers’ coach.
That team overcame a 1-8 start with one returning starter, Charlotte native Braxton Ogbueze.
This season, Charlotte has three returning starters – Ogbueze, a senior guard, and sophomore guards Jon Davis and Andrien White. The 49ers also have three other returnees who saw significant playing time: forwards Anthony Vanhook and Reid Aube, and center Benas Griciunas.
The work over the summer – especially during an August exhibition tour in Canada – and preseason practices have been integrating that group with 10 newcomers, including three players who sat out last season because of NCAA transfer rules.
The returning players notice a difference, Davis said.
“It’s way different than it was last year,” Davis said. “Last year, it was new to everybody, from the coaches to us. It was just new to everybody. Now, everybody’s been through it. There’s just a better understanding than there was last year.”
49ers women looking up
Charlotte’s women are coming off their first winning season in three years, going 19-12 last year (12-6 C-USA) and earning a berth in the Women’s NIT.
But 49ers coach Cara Consuegra sees similarities between this year’s team and her 2012-2013 squad, which finished 26-6 and advanced to the WNIT’s Sweet 16.
“The first thing is, we have a very experienced senior class,” Consuegra said. “And we probably have the most depth – no, we definitely have the most depth – we’ve had since that 2013 team, at each position.”
Charlotte returns four players who saw significant time as starters, three of whom earned postseason conference honors: senior guard Lefty Webster was second team All-C-USA, and guards Grace Hunter and Laia Raventos were named to the C-USA all-freshman team.
Also returning are seniors Ciara Gregory and Kenya Olley, junior Amaya Ransom and three redshirts from last year – junior Nyilah Jamison-Myers (a Clemson transfer) and freshmen Jaida Robinson and Dara Pearson.
“The biggest thing for us to have a year like we had in 2013 is our team needs to believe we can do that,” Consuegra said. “We have the ability and pieces. It’s very, very hard to win a championship. Just continuing to build that mentality, that confidence in each other that they can do it, is going to be important to us.”
Charlotte’s women host Pfeiffer in an exhibition Nov. 3 at Halton Arena, then open the season Nov. 11 against Wisconsin, also at Halton.
The 49ers’ men will also open their season Nov. 11 at Halton Arena against Newberry.