Milligan College hoops expects to get better as youngsters gain experience

By Matt Hill
STAR STAFF
mhill@starhq.com

   With the Milligan College men's basketball team being very young, expect the squad to get better as the year goes on.
   There are no seniors on the squad, and only two returning juniors come back. But junior guard Michael Morrell, a former standout at Elizabethton High School, believes this young team will come around.
   "They're getting better every scrimmage," Morrell said. "Roy Richmond and I talked about it the other day, sometimes we get frustrated because we want to move on and move on, but you've got to bring these guys with you.
   "But they're doing well. They're all hard workers, and they're all willing to learn. They've all got great talent. When you've got that, you're going to get positives out of it. They've got talent and they're willing to learn. That's going to be a big positive for us."
   If the Buffs are going to improve from a tenth-place Appalachian Athletic Conference finish during the 2001-2002 season, the talented group of freshmen and transfers will have to come around.
   Milligan head coach Tony Wallingford thinks that might take a little time.
   "It just simply comes together a little slower," Wallingford said. "We have to have a little more patience. We don't get as much done in practice because we have to slow down and teach and re-teach, and try to bring it all together. When you have upperclassmen and returning players; drills, concepts and principles are already in place with most of the team, and they're teaching the other guys on the fly.
   "Well, we don't have that. It just takes a little longer and a little more patience. I think this is a good team, and I think we will bring them together. I think they'll play good basketball, but it is going to take just a little more time."
   Two players that won't have to be brought along will be Morrell (6'2" 185) and Richmond (5' 10", 170) They're the returning juniors, and will be counted on for leadership on this squad.
   Morrell says they're ready to face the challenge.
   "It's something that Roy and I have to take upon ourselves, because it's something that we didn't really expect," Morrell said. "We're just juniors. We've got another year, and usually you look towards your seniors. But we don't have any, and that's something I've never experienced.
   "But since I've been here I've gotten to watch some great guys lead, like Gabe (Goulds) and Caleb (Gilmer). I grew up knowing Caleb, and he was a great guy that led well. Still, I've been in the role before at Elizabethton. And even though this is a different league, you still like to lead by example, no matter what level you're at. I'm trying to do that. I'm not quite there yet, but I'm learning. Coach Wallingford is willing to work with us all. He looks for Roy and I to lead, but I think we still need to do a little bit better. But I think as the season goes along, we'll do better."
   Sophomores Todd Davis (6'4" 200) and Craig Emmert (6'6" 200) are returning forwards for the Buffaloes.
   The rest of the team is made up of brand new players. Five of the new players are freshman.
   Guards Marc Curry (6'4" 180) and JaKeith Hairston (6'0" 170), along with forwards Justin Pike (6'5" 200), Nate Tincher (6'7" 250) and Tyler Wood (6'5" 215) make up one of the more highly-touted freshman classes in a while at Milligan.
   Curry was the Knoxville Player-of-the-Year last year, Pike played in the Western Carolina All-star Game, and Hairston led the Science Hill Hilltoppers to the TSSAA Class AAA championship game during the 2001-2002 campaign.
   "We've got five freshmen, and they're all going to be counted on to contribute," Wallingford said. "I don't think any one of them really has an opportunity to just sit behind a year. We're counting on all those guys to contribute in some way right now. We're pushing them pretty hard, trying to prepare them. We're not babying them. We're pushing them and working them to try and get them ready as soon as we can."
   An added dimension that hasn't been seen at Milligan is the influx of transfers. Due to losing so many players the year before, the Buffaloes have added four to their roster.
   Sophomore guard Paul Vespie (6'1" 180), junior guard Jonathan Harris (6'2", 185), junior Trent Shoun (6'6" 265) and sophomore guard Jordan Simmons (6'2" 200) should all be expected to contribute for Wallingford.
   Wallingford thinks these players' experience will help out a lot.
   "The transfers are looking good," Wallingford said. "They have some experience. They're a little tougher right now than some of the other guys. Some have played two years of junior college ball, and some are one-year transfers. But they are playing a little bit tougher, and with a little more savvy than some of the younger guys."
   Despite the experience, Wallingford points out that they are now in a new system.
   "It's new to them, too," Wallingford said. "They're not as aggressive as we would like them to be, because they're still thinking a lot. We want to keep them aggressive and alert. And we're not quite to that point yet."
   With Division I opponents Tennessee Tech, Chattanooga and David Lipscomb on the schedule, it may be tough early on for the Buffaloes.
   Morrell expects the team to get better with time.
   "Early on we play some bigger teams, and if we do take our knocks from them, we've got to learn from it," he said. "We know that our main goal is the conference. I think early on we're going to be learning a lot. But in January and February, you're really going to have to watch out for us. But come November, this first game, we're going to be ready to go."
   Milligan opens up at Berea College Friday night.