Six years without a CIAA tournament finals berth gnaws at Johnson C. Smith men’s basketball coach Steve Joyner.
The futility streak consumes Joyner, who has three league titles in his 28 years with the Golden Bulls. The reminders and expectations are everywhere, which make it hard to forget.
“It keeps you up at night, it makes you think all summer long (about) what you can do to get back there,” he said. “You have to get better each year, and certainly that’s what we’re trying to do with our program. That’s the ultimate goal for every team – to be there on Saturday night and win it.”
J.C. Smith, picked to finish third in the South Division by league coaches, has assets, especially on the wing in preseason All-CIAA picks Diondre Pratt at guard and forward Stedmon Lemon. The Golden Bulls are an unknown in the frontcourt with all-conference forward Emilio Parks graduated. Alandre Davis, a 6-foot-9 senior center, is recovering from offseason surgery. Christian Williams, who took a year off from school, is back to shore up the post. After last year’s 14-14 season, Joyner is eager to put those struggles behind.
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“I think we’ve learned from those lessons, the people we have returning,” he said. “The leadership we have remaining on the team has been through that experience and don’t want to go through it again.”
Livingstone, which went 19-10 and won its second straight title, tops the South poll, but coach James Stinson admits the Blue Bears are in rebuilding mode.
“It’s going to be difficult to top,” he said. “Those young men that helped build the program have moved on with their careers and they set a precedence for other kids that have come in. We’ll be very young, so we’ll have to take a day-by-day process to be ready.”
Livingstone returns leading scorer Eric Dubose, a preseason all-conference guard who averaged 15.7 points as well as Ty Newman, a preseason All-CIAA pick who averaged 14 points.
“Those will be mainstays,” Stinson said, along with Austin Harris and Juwan Cole, returning players who’ll be counted on for larger contributions. “All those young men are going to be the people who help us move to the next level, and keep us moving the program forward.”
CIAA coaches project Livingstone to win the women’s South championship, followed by J.C. Smith. The Blue Bears, who went 26-2 last year before losing in the semifinals to Lincoln (Pa.), return preseason All-CIAA guard Amber Curtis, who averaged 12.3 points. The Golden Bulls finished 20-8 and return preseason all-conference center Ashley Porter, who averaged 9.4 points and 6.9 rebounds.
CIAA coaches polls
1. Virginia State
2. Lincoln (Pa.)
4. Virginia Union
5. Bowie State
6. Elizabeth City State
2. Johnson C. Smith
3. Winston-Salem State
4. Fayetteville State
6. Saint Augustine’s
1. Bowie State
2. Virginia State
5. Virginia Union
6. Elizabeth City State
2. Winston-Salem State
3. Johnson C. Smith
4. Saint Augustine’s
5. Fayetteville State