The Charlotte 49ers open their men’s basketball season Friday night with a bench nearly full of new players and new coaches.
But for one 49ers player, the opener against Elon is the beginning of the end.
Gastonia’s Bernard Sullivan – his playing career hampered by four concussions since high school – aims to make the most of the final time around.
“This is it, this is the final year,” said Sullivan, a 6-foot-8 forward who was among the nation’s highest-recruited players in 2011. “I want to make my mark here, and this is the last ride.”
Sullivan is expected to be a major part of new Charlotte coach Mark Price’s rotation when the 49ers take the floor at 8:30 p.m. (WCCB) at Halton Arena.
Sullivan played his first three years of high school at North Mecklenburg before transferring to Davidson Day. He was recruited by Clemson, where he played mostly in a reserve role for two seasons. At that point, he was ready to come home.
“My family is here, and it was a chance to see familiar faces – the people who knew me since I was 8 or 9 playing AAU basketball,” he said.
Sullivan transferred to Charlotte, sat out the 2013-2014 season, and looked forward to his junior year in 2014-15. But he suffered a concussion in preseason practice . This time, recovery from the injury was lengthy.
Sullivan didn’t see action until late January, playing 13 games and averaging 4.8 points and 2.7 rebounds. It was far below what he felt capable of producing.
“I had to sit with the coaches and ask if I should continue to play,” Sullivan said. “A concussion is no joke.”
After considerable testing, Sullivan received the go-ahead.
“It takes some courage to go back out there,” he said. “You have a greater chance of having another concussion after the first, and when you start getting multiple concussions that can have an impact later in life.”
Sullivan, who is majoring in criminal justice and sociology, said he knows there is life after college basketball.
“That’s my concern – balancing my desire to play basketball but taking care of myself for the future,” he said.
Price said Sullivan could be a key player this season.
“He’s a senior, a guy we hope will show a lot of leadership,” Price said. “And he’s been playing very well. We just want to keep him healthy.”
Sullivan said he enjoys the new atmosphere with Price and the assistant coaches.
“I see great coaching, and coach Price knows the game,” he said. “There are great assistant coaches with a lot of experience. It’s going to take some time for us to build together, but we could be really good.”
Sullivan said as a senior on a team loaded with freshmen and sophomores, he feels the need to lead.
“I’ll try to show them how to do it,” he said. “With my injuries, I’ve learned that you need to do a good job every day. You don’t know what might happen down the road.”
Charlotte’s women will play Ball State in the first game of Friday’s doubleheader at Halton Arena. Tipoff is 5:30 p.m.