2008-09 Alabama A&M Basketball Preview: #143
Overall Rank: #143
Conference Rank: #1 SWAC
2007-08: 14-15, 11-7, 3rd
2007-08 postseason: none
If Alabama A&M could only beat Arkansas Pine Bluff, their season would have ended much differently. As it was, the Bulldogs finished third in the conference and had a first round conference tournament exit at the hands of the Golden Lions. With a whole slew of talent returning, the Bulldogs will have the best backcourt in the SWAC and that should be enough for Coach Vann Pettaway’s squad to think about a conference championship.
However, there is a huge, literally and figuratively, hole to fill in the frontcourt. The 6-11 Mickell Gladness tallied 10.3 points and 8.8 rebounds per game. Having a big guy like that really freed up space for the guards and that will be impossible to replace. As much as Gladness will be missed on the offense, his defense was his best asset. Two years ago Gladness led the nation in blocked shots and last year he was second, totaling 4.5 per contest.
Any way you look at it, the frontcourt is not going to be happy without Gladness, and some of the newcomers will at least have to play a role off the bench. Shane Burrell has the most potential, but Gerald January has the experience. A junior college transfer, January can play at either forward spot and use his 6-7, 200 pound frame to clear space in the paint or drive to the rim. Wings Casey Cantey and Royce Hamilton could even play at the four in a pinch. The incoming freshmen spent their prep careers playing in the post, but at this level both should be at the small forward spot. As long as the outside shooting continues to improve, Cantey and Hamilton will flourish at their new positions. Point guard Marcus Lee, a high school teammate of Hamilton, will become a leader of the team in the coming years. For now, the pass first point guard will learn the ropes as a backup.
Who to Watch:
Who is going to replace Gladness? Nobody will replace his shotblocking ability, but somebody has to play his position. Jonathan Belt, Jonathan Inman and Kudus Ogbara are decent players, but they are all 6-5 or 6-6 and cannot clog the paint like Gladness did. At the most, they are power forwards. The biggest returning player on the roster is center Norris Arnold at 6-8. Arnold only saw action in 17 games and averaged 6.4 minutes per contest last season and he will be asked to do a lot more for his senior campaign. However, in a conference like the SWAC, it has been proven time and time again that you do not need a dominating big man, or even any truly big man, to win the championship.
With Trant Simpson leading the way, the Alabama A&M backcourt is the most talented in the SWAC. Simpson led the team with 15.5 points and 3.5 assists per game as a sophomore and now, as an upperclassman, he is ready to become a leader. Evan Hilton and Desmond Jackson are the long range shooting threats and players like Jackson and LaNorris Smith have a year or two of experience with the team and are ready for a bigger role. But it might be hard to find the minutes, especially after 6-3 forward Isiah Cross came into his own late in his freshman season. If the talent on the perimeter plays as well as they could, do not be surprised if, in certain situations, the Bulldogs put a really small lineup on the court.
Projected Post-season Tournament: NCAA
Projected Starting Five:
Trant Simpson, Junior, Guard, 15.5 points per game
Evan Hilton, Senior, Guard, 12.0 points per game
Andrew Williams, Junior, Guard, 3.9 points per game
Jonathan Inman, Junior, Forward, 8.4 points per game
Norris Arnold, Senior, Center, 0.7 points per game