Milligan recruiting class filled with promise

By Matt Hill
STAR STAFF
mhill@starhq.com

   Milligan College men's basketball fans may not recognize next year's team, but head coach Tony Wallingford hopes that in four years his new recruits will be players that fans won't soon forget.
   Nine players have been signed by Coach Wallingford, and the class on paper is drawing comparisons to the '97 group that featured Caleb Gilmer, Nathan Jenkins, Gabe Goulds and Lance Ashby.
   Wallingford is excited about the class, but thought the number of players brought in was due to it being needed.
   "Certainly in numbers it's one of the largest groups we've brought in," Wallingford said. "It was necessitated by the fact we had five seniors that graduated in May. We had a sixth player that academically was not going to be able to return. Then we had a seventh player that decided because of a load and an hours situation not to play his last year, so that he can graduate on time. So there were seven openings right there. We went to work on it, and ended up picking a player or two late to make the number nine."
   Wallingford believes the class has a lot of potential, but knows that only time will tell.
   "How good these guys will be, well that's all yet to be seen," Wallingford said. "I didn't bring my crystal ball with me, so I can't look in it and tell you. But we're pleased with the picture."
   One of the big signings for Wallingford this time came out of the Knoxville area with Knox Farragut's Marcus Curry. The 6-4 guard averaged 15.3 points, 5.3 rebounds and 2.5 steals per game.
   "Marcus was the Co-Player-of-the-Year in the KIL (Knoxville Interscholastic League), and did receive a lot of attention from teams," Wallingford said. "I think the fact that he was a little bit of a tweener is what set him back as far as some of the bigger schools. People have asked me about that, and they've contacted him and stayed in touch with him, but in the end that was going to be the problem. But for our league, we think he will be very competitive."
   Justin Pike brings a big presence to the Buffs frontcourt with his 6-6 frame. Pike averaged 17.2 points and seven rebounds per game at North Buncombe High School in Weaverville, N.C. as a senior.
   Pike was highly thought of by the ETSU coaching staff, and they recommended him to Wallingford.
   "Tom Conrad (ETSU assistant coach) had seen him play, and Tom helped me with a recommendation," Wallingford said. "I called Tom, because I knew he had seen him play on two occasions. Tom gave me a pretty solid recommendation, and we had seen Justin play in an All-Star game. And with a couple of other recommendations we were able to follow up and get him in here late. Tom said they would have been interested in him had they needed a swing, a guy that can do a little bit inside and a little bit outside, but he said they're loaded at that position. But he has good credentials coming in."
   Gatlinburg-Pittman standout Marc Pinature is a 6-1 guard that comes to Milligan after averaging 19.6 points per game as a senior. Last season, Pinature earned District 2-AA Player-of-the-Year honors.
   "We're really happy with him, and he has a lot of potential," Wallingford said. "He's just a gym rat, a hard worker. We look at him as an 18-year-old, then we look at him as a 21 or 22-year old. With his work habits, we really think he can develop into a nice point guard. He played point and scored for Pittman. But he liked the fact were were recruiting him more as a point guard. He wanted to go to a place that I felt really wanted him and really needed him, and we felt we certainly wanted him, and we need some help at that position."
   Wallingford usually doesn't take transfers, but this year was different. Milligan signed four transfers, including Cleveland State's Jonathan Harris, Roane State's Trent Shown and Paul Vespie and Tusculum's Jordan Simmons.
   Wallingford felt it was out of necessity.
   "We knew because of the quantity of the class, we did not want to try to go with seven or eight freshmen. We knew we needed some maturity and some experience. We found excellent kids character wise, academic wise, and were able to get them in."
   Shown should be able to produce right away in the frontcourt. Shown is 6-6 and 250 pounds.
   "Trent Shown is just a big and strong wide body type kid with good offensive skills, and is such a tenacious defender and rebounder for us," Wallingford said.
   Harris is 6-3, but played inside for Cleveland State because of injuries. Wallingford hopes Harris doesn't have to deal with that at Milligan.
   "He's a tweener," Wallingford said. "He had to play out of position, played inside at 6-3 for Cleveland State due to injuries and illness. I think he got overlooked, because he was a 6-3 kid playing a lot of inside for them. But he's very versatile, and had a great Junior College State All-star game. He's just a real versatile inside and outside swing guy that we like."
   If Vespie is a familiar name to Milligan supporters, that's because he is the brother of Milligan assistant David Vespie.
   Vespie should be able to make a name for himself after averaging 20.8 points per game at Wartburg High School as a senior. Vespie then made strides at Roane State as a freshman before deciding to come to Milligan.
   "What happened there was we lost a recruit late, who academically was not accepted into the college," Wallingford said. "We were recruiting Paul for next year, and we just invited him and said the opportunity is here now.
   He decided to go ahead and do that."
   Simmons, a Unicoi County High School graduate, comes over from Tusculum. Wallingford wanted Simmons out of high school, but was glad to have him come in now.
   "We recruited Jordan as a high school senior, and he went to Tusculum," Wallingford said. "And when he wanted to transfer over, we said we would love to extend the invitation to him again. And again there's a kid who is an honor student. Shown, Harris and Vespie also have excellent G.P.A.'s.
   "The four transfers, two of the four we've got for three years. And they're all good people with good grades, and are good players."
   The Milligan class rounds out with Florida signees Tyler Wood (6-4) and Nate Tincher (6-7, 230).
   "Tyler Wood is kind of a swing man with a good perimeter game," Wallingford said. "He's a nice strong kid. We liked his versatility. Nate Tincher is going to come in and walk-on for us. At 6-7, 230, we don't project him to be ready his first year, but we hope to get him in the program and work with him and challenge him in the weight room. We think he can come on and be a decent player."
   These players will be thrown to the fire early, as Milligan plays Chattanooga, Tennessee Tech and David Lipscomb on its non-conference slate.