Mark Price felt like he was starting nearly from scratch a year ago when he took over as Charlotte’s head coach.
Price had to hire a staff and build a team after inheriting just five scholarship players.
The 49ers are in a much better spot heading into Price’s second season that drew a little closer Tuesday when Conference USA’s coaches gathered at the league’s headquarters for media day. Charlotte was picked to finish eighth in the conference.
The 49ers have momentum on their side after winning four out of six games to cap the 2015-16 season, including their opening-round game in the C-USA tournament.
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“We were a dangerous team that people didn’t want to play heading down the stretch,” Price said. “We have a year under our belt, a lot of guys coming back and added some more pieces. We are still a work in progress, but we are heading in the right direction.”
Charlotte returns three of its top four scorers from last season. Braxton Ogbueze averaged 14.5 points and led a trio of guards who were double-figure scorers. Jon Davis and Andrien White averaged 11.7 and 10.7 points.
Both were named to the All-C-USA freshman team.
The key for Charlotte will be replacing center Joseph Uchebo, who averaged 13.2 points and 11.5 rebounds as a senior.
The success Charlotte enjoyed last season helped the 49ers reload.
“We lost a good player inside in Joseph, but have a lot more depth,” Price said. “We were playing about six guys after last season. We have a lot more talent than we did last year.”
That additional talent has Charlotte confident in its ability to build on a promising first season under Price.
“What we did last year helped us,” Price said. “People are excited about what we are trying to do and the future of our program. The momentum is important heading into Year 2.”
▪ Charlotte had three games picked up for C-USA’s slate for ESPN3. The home games against Rice on Jan. 2 and Louisiana Tech on Jan. 12 were selected for broadcast, along with their game at Old Dominion on Feb. 18.
▪ Robert Ehsan steps into a high-pressure situation in his first season as Alabama-Birmingham’s coach after the Jerod Haase left for Stanford. The Blazers are picked to win the C-USA title in the preseason coaches poll. Ehsan was Haase’s associate head coach last season.
▪ Western Kentucky was picked to finish third in C-USA in coach Rick Stansbury’s first season, despite returning only three lettermen from a year ago. Western Kentucky added a host of key transfers, including guards Pancake Thomas (Hartford) and Que Johnson (Washington State), and forward Willie Carmichael (Tennessee).