College Basketball

Recruiting a priority for 49ers’ basketball

Charlotte 49ers guard Braxton Ogbueze will be the only player on the roster who averaged more than 14 minutes per game last season.
Charlotte 49ers guard Braxton Ogbueze will be the only player on the roster who averaged more than 14 minutes per game last season.

Perhaps the only way for the Charlotte 49ers to rebuild their men’s basketball program was to start from scratch.

That’s what it looks like for new coach Mark Price, who, since he was hired in March, has seen four prominent players transfer and the program’s top recruit back out of his commitment.

None of this is necessarily uncommon when a school hires a new coach. But it’s definitely become commonplace at Charlotte, which had seen a steady stream of players leave the program recently under former coach Alan Major.

But here is what Price was left with, as he and his new staff have hit the recruiting trail hard in recent weeks:

▪ With center Mike Thorne, power forward Willie Clayton and guards Keyshawn Woods and Torin Dorn out the door (in addition to graduating seniors Pierria Henry and Terrence Williams), guard Braxton Ogbueze will be the only player on the roster who averaged more than 14 minutes per game last season.

▪ After Ogbueze, the only players with any significant experience are junior forwards Bernard Sullivan and Cameron Blakley and junior guard Ivan Benkovic. Combined career starts: zero.

▪ Seven-footer Benas Griciunas, who sat out last season after transferring from Auburn, averaged 2.0 points and 1.8 rebounds in 12 games for the Tigers in 2013-14 before missing the rest of the season with an injury.

It’s possible Major would have been in the same situation as Price finds himself in had Major remained with the 49ers. Thorne and Clayton planned to transfer anyway and Woods, according to a source, wasn’t happy with how he was used last season.

What also hurts Charlotte is the loss of an entire recruiting class, which was wiped out when Victory Christian forward Ebuka Izundu got his release from Charlotte, and two other high school players who had made verbal commitments to the 49ers also backed out.

Price has been recruiting high school players, fifth-year transfers and junior college players. Among those on the transfer market that Charlotte reportedly has contacted are former Cuthbertson High point guard Shelton Mitchell (Vanderbilt), Alabama guard Devin Mitchell and Memphis forward Nick King.

Rivals no more

After being rivals for four seasons, Charlotte’s Henry and Davidson’s Tyler Kalinoski were teammates at last week’s Portsmouth (Va.) Invitational Tournament, a high-profile event attended by scouts from every NBA team.

Both players had stretches in which they did what they do best. In three games, Kalinoski averaged 13 points and made 10-of-19 3-pointers. Henry didn’t shoot well (not a surprise – he was a 41.4-percent shooter in college), but averaged 6 assists, including 11 in one game.

Mecklenburg County is losing two of its most accomplished players in Henry and Kalinoski. Henry finished his 49ers career as the program’s leader in assists, steals and minutes played. Kalinoski led the Wildcats into the treacherous waters last season of the Atlantic 10 and was named the league’s player of the year.

Don’t expect to see either on an NBA roster next season, but they’ll certainly be invited to preseason camps, with the opportunity to play overseas.

Thorne’s development

One last thought about Thorne, who announced Saturday he has chosen Illinois over Kentucky, Kansas and Pittsburgh to play his final season (he is graduating from Charlotte in May and has one year of eligibility remaining): Who would have thought Thorne would ever be courted by coaches such as Kentucky’s John Calipari and Kansas’ Bill Self when he arrived at Charlotte in 2010?

Thorne was such an unpolished project coming out of Fayetteville’s Trinity Christian that he redshirted as a freshman. Thorne’s skills, especially on the offensive end, have improved dramatically from season to season since then.

While never a dominant player for the 49ers, the fact that he might be a contributor at any one of those schools next season (and perhaps become a solid pro prospect) is testament to his work and dedication.

Scott: 704-358-5889; Twitter: @davidscott14

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