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(Information in this team report is as of October 1.)
COACH AND PROGRAM
There's a definite buzz around basketball at Coastal Carolina. And that's because, well, there's a Buzz around basketball at Coastal Carolina.
Buzz Peterson, the former head coach at Tennessee, brings a big name, big goals and big expectations to a school that once dominated the league in the late 1980s and early
'90s. Hit hard by NCAA sanctions in the mid-'90s, the Chants have never been the same.
Pete Strickland went 70-127 in seven years and then Coastal made a bold move, pursuing and landing Michael Jordan's former roommate at North Carolina, a guy that has already racked up 166 victories in nine years at Appalachian State, Tulsa and Tennessee.
"This was an exciting opportunity, especially with the new arena going up in '07-'08," Peterson said. "There is talent in the players returning. Pete and his staff did a great job and I just want to make the transition as easy for these guys as possible."
There's a sense that the big transition at Coastal could be the Chants returning to the ranks of perennial contender under Peterson. They've always had that great Myrtle Beach location to recruit to, and they've been successful in the past, just not recently. One of the big missing pieces to the puzzle is that new gym to replace bandbox Kimbel Arena, affectionately known as "The Chicken Coop" on campus.
The buzz created by Buzz has made that dream come true. And if Peterson can find some big men to plug around two of the Big South's top guards, Coastal has a chance at a dream season, too.
Start with 6-4 senior Pele Paelay, the returning Big South Player of the Year after averaging a league-best 16.8 points per game and finishing sixth in the conference in rebounds with 6.0 per game. He also had 2.8 assists and 2.4 steals. He's a big, bulky guard that has no physical equal at his position in the league.
"He's very athletic, a slashing type of player that can jump over people," Peterson said of Paelay. "He's quick, fast, a very good defensive player and I think he can be even better."
The other wing guard is 6-3 sophomore Jack Leasure (14.5 ppg, 2.0 rpg), who hit .425 percent (85-of-200) from three-point range, the second best figure in the Big South. Leasure led the league with 2.93 threes per game and that's the big reason he was conference freshman of the year. The other was his poise and his all-around skill.
"We've got to look at ways to get him shots," Peterson said. "And we also want to see him create his own shots."
Finding a point guard to help Leasure and Paelay get their shots is a major concern. Peterson has senior Colin Stevens (5.5 ppg, 1.1 rpg, 1.7 rpg), a former walk-on with a lot of game experience, and freshman Mario Sisinni, with no college experience. The 5-9 Stevens is already a vocal leader on the team.
Sisinni, a 6-2 sharpshooter could also play on the wings, something Stevens won't be asked to do. One of Peterson's first recruits, Sisinni is still feeling his way at point. He averaged 18.2 points, 4.3 rebounds and 4.4 assists at Dr. Phillips High School in Orlando, Fla.
The Chants have a couple of experienced junior big men in 6-5 Moses Sonko (6.5 ppg, 3.8 rpg) and 6-7 Adrian Gross. Sonko shot 49 percent from the field last year. Peterson wants Sonko, who has tremendous quickness, to expand his perimeter game to become more of an offensive threat.
Gross (6.2 ppg, 5.5 rpg) is the team's leading returning rebounder after Paelay, and he's a power player around the basket already known for his work ethic.
Peterson expects 6-8 sophomore Chad Ferguson (2.9 ppg, 1.6 rpg) to figure in on the low block, too. A foot injury this summer has slowed his conditioning, but Ferguson has a little more versatility with his ability to face the basket.
Sophomore Noah Nichols (3.2 ppg, 2.5 rpg) is similar to Gross in strength and size, using his 6-8, 235-pound frame to effectively bang around the basket.
Freshman Matt Brennan, a 6-8 center, is raw but has a little more bounce and can make plays above the rim. He averaged 10.5 points and 8.0 rebounds at Lee's Summit (Mo.) North High School, and he'll see some action.
Marcus White, another 6-8 freshman, needs to add some strength. Peterson likes his length and his "sneaky" rebounding. White averaged 13 points and eight rebounds at Gwynn Park (Md.) High School.
"We've got to go by committee in there a little bit," Peterson said of his inside game. "I'm going to challenge all these guys because I'm a big believer in inside touches. Every [possession] I want to give an inside look and I want to make sure we've got some guys that can score. We've got to find some scoring up front."
Freshman Joseph Harris is more of a wing, a slasher with ability to rebound. The 6-5 forward averaged 21.2 points, 14.2 rebounds and 4.5 assists at Lejeune (N.C.) High School.
Freshman swingman Logan Johnson has caught the coach's eye. The 6-5 Johnson averaged 19 points and eight rebounds last year at South Doyle High in Knoxville, Tenn.
"Logan just has a knack of getting his nose in there," Peterson said. "A kid like him just needs to get in that gym to shoot a lot. Joseph and Matt just need a lot more reps [in practice]."
Shooting guard Steven Sexton of Lexington, Ky., rounds out the freshman class. The 6-1 Sexton averaged 26.2 points, 5.0 rebounds and 5.0 assists at Wayne County High. He has a smooth shot and elevated skills, particularly on defense, traits Peterson hopes to build into the foundation of his program.
"I'm still trying to figure out what our strength is," he said. "There are certain ways I want to play, but we can't necessarily do that. I'm one of these guys that's going to adapt to the way my personnel is. In recruiting, I've got to get people that play the way I like to play. Shooting makes up for a lot of things. We need to be better perimeter shooters."
Walk-on Jael Laborn of Sumter, S.C., has been a pleasant surprise, showing some inside-outside skills with his 6-5, 180-pound frame. He red-shirted last season.
The Chants were allowed 10 August practices to prepare for an early September tour to Costa Rica. It was a big advantage for the new coach, who was still evaluating the hand he has been dealt.
BLUE RIBBON ANALYSIS
Peterson's presence and cache in the collegiate game instantly elevates a program that can be a force in this league. The preseason practices and foreign tour will give the Chants a head start in finding themselves. In Paelay and Leasure, they've already got firepower on the wings.
Ten players are either freshmen or sophomores so this is a work in progress, but one with enough talent -- particularly if the questions at point and in the paint are answered -- to succeed.
Peterson wants to go 10 deep, so he's got to count on several young players to perform. That seasoning should make this team all the tougher next year. In any event, a program that's been talking about a new arena for 20 years, finally has one on the drawing board, and that's a definite step in the right direction.
Recruiting is the next step. Start winning again, build it, and they will come.
For the most comprehensive previews on all 326 Division I teams, order the "Bible" of college basketball, the 25th anniversary edition of Blue Ribbon College Basketball Yearbook, at www.blueribbonyearbook.com or call 1-866-805-BALL (2255).