College Basketball

Charlotte 49ers tip off basketball season with new coach, new players

Former NBA All-Star Mark Price held his first practice on Friday as the Charlotte 49ers’ new men’s basketball coach.
Former NBA All-Star Mark Price held his first practice on Friday as the Charlotte 49ers’ new men’s basketball coach. jsiner@charlotteobserver.com

Charlotte’s men’s basketball players wore their regular roster numbers on their practice jerseys Friday for the opening day of drills.

That was a good thing, because with a few exceptions, the group of players inside the 49ers’ practice facility next to Halton Arena consisted mostly of new faces to the program. And that is also true of the coaching staff.

First-year coach Mark Price acknowledges that the learning curve is a big storyline during preseason practice, but he said that won’t be a season-long situation.

“They’re adjusting to our system,” says Price of the 49ers players. “But I think we’ll come around quicker than some people might think.”

Price is new to this head-coaching business. He is a former Georgia Tech and NBA point guard who was an assistant last season with the Charlotte Hornets. Price has been tasked with reviving a 49ers program that has slipped in recent seasons.

Charlotte was 14-18 last season under Coach Alan Major and Interim Coach Ryan Odom, who finished the season when Major took a medical leave of absence in early January. The 49ers were 75-81 in five years under Major.

“Obviously, we’re a work-in- progress,” Price said. “We got started a bit late in the recruiting process, but we were able to get some good, young men into the program.

“When we step on the floor, we will expect to compete. We expect to win.”

One of the few returning players is 6-foot-1 redshirt junior guard Braxton Ogbueze, a product of Charlotte’s United Faith Academy. Ogbueze averaged about 9 points per game last season, mostly as a point guard, but Price said Ogbueze will have a different role this year.

“Obviously, he will be one of our leaders, and he’s been great so far,” Price said. “We’ll probably play him off the ball more, though. He can shoot.”

Another returning player is Bernard Sullivan, a 6-foot-8 redshirt senior who played at Davidson Day and then at Clemson before transferring to Charlotte. He was in only 13 games last season with the 49ers, sidelined by a concussion for most of the season.

Price said Jon Davis will play point guard, and guards Curran Scott and Andrien White also will see plenty of playing time. All three are incoming freshmen.

“Davis could be a very good player, and both Scott and White are college-ready,” Price says.

But he adds, “We’re putting a new system in place. We’re starting from scratch.”

Another young player figuring prominently in the 49ers’ plans is 7-foot redshirt sophomore center Benas Griciunas, who grew up in Lithuania and transferred to Charlotte from Auburn.

Price said the 49ers will be an active team.

“We will play an up-tempo style and space the floor,” he said. “We’ll look to use the 3-point shot. And we’ll play hard on defense. We want to leave it on the floor every night.”

Schedule: Charlotte has a home exhibition on Nov. 9 against Methodist, and opens the regular season with a women’s-men’s doubleheader Nov. 13 against Elon. The 49ers will get their first big test Thanksgiving week, playing in a Bahamas tournament with a field that includes Syracuse, Connecticut, Michigan, Texas and Gonzaga.

TV games: Eleven of Charlotte’s regular-season games will be televised this season. The latest announced telecasts are six contests to be carried by the American Sports Network. Those games are against Elon (Nov. 13), at Old Dominion (Jan. 2), at Florida International (Jan. 28), at Florida Atlantic (Jan. 30), North Texas (Feb. 13) and at Marshall (Feb. 19).

Also scheduled for telecast are games at East Carolina (Nov. 16), the three contests Nov. 25-27 in the Bahamas, and against Georgetown (Dec. 22).

Radio voice: Jobey Thomas, a standout shooting guard with the 49ers from 1998-2002, is returning to the team (and to the United States) as color analyst for Charlotte’s radio broadcasts.

Thomas, who played high-school basketball at Independence, spent the past 13 seasons playing professionally in Europe. He played a key role in the 49ers winning the Conference USA titles in 1999 and 2001. He still holds the conference and school records for 3-point field goals made in a career (346).

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