Player turnover is to be expected in college athletics. Players graduate, and are replaced by incoming recruits.
Conference USA probably will have more new faces than any other conference in America in 2009.
Of course, most observers—whether casual or hardcore—would point to the flagship C-USA program at Memphis as the poster child of change. With a brand new coaching staff, just six scholarship returnees, three scholarship signees, one transfer, and five walk-ons, the Tigers certainly had more upheaval than anyone else in the country.
However, the Marshall Thundering Herd actually count eight —as in the number higher than seven and lower than nine—newcomers being introduced to the program.
I dare you to find any other basketball team in all of America (beside fellow C-USA member UAB, with nine) that has more brand new ballers than Marshall. I double dare you.
Coming off a 15-17 campaign in 2008-’09, the Herd are hungering for more. In a watered down C-USA, Coach Donnie Jones can improve on that mark, with a few good breaks.
Everything starts with physical frontliner Tyler Wilkerson (pictured), a fine physical specimen (6’8”, 240) and aggressive post presence (team-high 16 blocked shots) who is healthy once more, having recovered from a broken jaw on February 4 that ended his season.
Wilkerson led the Thundering Herd in rebounds per game (6.2), was second on the team in field goal percentage (.529), and finished third in scoring (10.4 ppg).
He was prone to foul trouble, with 61 fouls in 22 contests. He needs to stay on court to help this team. His production needs to spike forward in order to make up for the loss of three-time Third Team All C-USA performer Markel Humphrey.
Humphrey led Marshall in scoring (12.5 ppg) and shooting percentage (.544), while grabbing a healthy 5.3 rpg. He is the only letterwinner whose production will be missed. In fact, junior Adam Williams, upon seeing the huge incoming class, decided to forego his final year of eligibility in order to join Coach Jones’ coaching staff.
There is a lot of unproven talent for that coaching staff to mix-and-match with a solid nucleus of returnees.
Redshirt senior Chris Lutz returns for his final campaign, poised to lead the charge. He was second on the team in scoring (10.7 ppg), and was one of the top sharpshooters in all of C-USA. He should reprise his role as gunner this season for Marshall, joined in the backcourt by All Freshman team member Damier Pitts.
Lutz led the Herd in three-pointers made (65) and three-point percentage (.374), while ranking fourth in the league in the latter category and seventh in C-USA in threes made per contest (2.32). With the continued emergence of Wilkerson, he could be an even larger threat from outside.
Pitts turned into a fine starting point guard, placing fourth in scoring (9.7 ppg), draining 40 treys, and leading the team in assists (103) and free throw percentage (.841).
Sophomore Shaquille Johnson should join Lutz and Pitts in the backcourt rotation. He settled in and started 27 games as a freshman, scoring 9.6 ppg and chipping in 3.1 rpg, fourth on the team.
As if the returnees didn’t provide enough firepower in the backcourt, incoming freshmen Noah Fischer and DeAndre Kane should see the court this season as Marshall continues to implement a more up-tempo offense.
Fischer scored 23.3 ppg as a senior, draining 94 three-pointers and being named First Team All-State in West Virginia. He was nominated for the 2008-’09 McDonald’s All-America contest.
Kane had offers from a long list of elite programs, and even fielded inquiries from Kentucky before signing with Marshall. He is quite likely the highest profile recruit to don the hunter green of the Thundering Herd in the Donnie Jones era.
DeAndre led Pittsburgh’s Schenley High School to a State Championship as a junior. He scored 35.1 ppg and snagged 11 rpg that season. He then helped lead The Patterson School to a 34-2 record and prep school national title, averaging 15.6 ppg.
Kane teamed with current Marshall teammate Hassan Whiteside at Patterson. Whiteside, 6’11” and 235, will factor heavily into the frontcourt rotation for Marshall after averaging 18 points, 10 rebounds, and 5.5 blocks per contest in 2007-’08 for East Side High in Newark, NJ.
However, he will find stiff competition for minutes from Nigel Spikes.
Spikes, 6’11” tall and 220 pounds, sat out last year as a Proposition 48 casualty. He has three years of eligibility remaining. He averaged 10 ppg, 9 rpg, and 3 bpg as a senior at Dillard High in Florida. He was a starter on the Florida Class 5-A state champions that season, and has had a year to work in the Marshall system.
Combo forward Antonio Haymon, 6’6” and weighing 220, bulled his way to a first-team NJCAA Division II All-American last year. He scored 20 ppg and pulled down 9 rpg, and promises to provide depth and scoring punch for the Herd.
Donnie Jones is a proven winner. In his 11 years as an assistant at Florida, the Gators were 261-103 (.717) and were only the second repeat national titlists in the post-Wooden era. He played a key role in recruitment and player development for Billy Donovan’s program. Now, he's building his own team. He has enough talent to put together a very solid 2009-'10 campaign.