CONWAY The Coastal Carolina men’s basketball program is still working to put the finishing touches on its schedule for the upcoming season, but the roster is set.
Sitting in his new office Friday, head coach Cliff Ellis discussed how the Chanticleers have undergone significant changes not only around the court with the opening of The HTC Center but on it as well with a retooled roster featuring seven newcomers.
“We haven’t put it all together, but the fact that we’ve been able to see them this summer, I can say there’s athleticism, there’s talent, there’s skill,” Ellis said. “It’s just going to be a matter of getting them all together.”
A new NCAA rule allowed the coaches to work with players enrolled in summer school for eight hours a week and all but one of those newcomers has been on campus beginning the process of assimilating into a program that has won 75 games over the last three seasons.
And any extra time on the court has been a welcomed opportunity for Ellis, who expects as many as three of those new players to end up in the starting lineup come November.
“There’s a lot of new faces. [It’s] a talented group -- at the same point in time, they haven’t played together,” he said. “... I think that what stands out with next year’s team is the fact that the front line is going to be totally inexperienced. The backcourt is very experienced, probably as good as anybody in the league. The frontcourt [is] the most inexperienced group in the league, I would think.”
Senior point guard Kierre Greenwood and senior guards Anthony Raffa and Danny Nieman return as the team’s veteran core, but those are the only sure things at this point. Forward Chris Gradnigo, who was the Chants’ sixth-man, and starting center Jon Pack were seniors last season, and veteran starting forward Sam McLaurin left unexpectedly to play his senior year at Illinois while pursuing graduate school.
That said, Ellis is very encouraged by new freshmen forwards Alioune “Badou” Diagne, Michel Enanga and Tristian Curtis.
“I think we’ve got three forwards that I would say, if I were at Auburn or Clemson, the high-major places that I’ve been at, I would have taken these kids,” Ellis said.
Enanga, a 6-foot-5 prospect from Montverde, Fla., and Diagne, a 6-foot-7 forward from Sarasota, Fla., were the team’s first additions of this class. Diagne is the one newcomer who has not made it to campus yet, but Ellis has spoken very highly of both players since they signed.
“When I saw [Diagne] last fall recruiting and we signed him early, he was I thought the best signee based on that time a year ago,” Ellis said. “And Michel has really come so far. I’m really anxious for Badou to get in here and see if he’s still at the level that he was at because I had him on paper perhaps as high-rated a recruit as we have had. But I’ve been so blown away with how Michel’s game has been. ... That forward group is elite.”
The third freshman in that group is the 6-foot-8 Curtis, who comes to Coastal from Sugar Land, Texas. He could also be pushed to the 5-spot, or center, though. Ellis says Curtis is originally from the Bahamas and has the ability to step out and shoot from the perimeter as well as play inside.
El Hadji Ndieguene, a 6-foot-10 junior college pick-up from Lake Land College in Illinois, and Uros Ljeskovic, who comes to Coastal from Montenegro, will also be competing for playing time in the post.
“[He’s] very bouncy. He brings it. He brings it,” Ellis said of Ljeskovic. “If he were 6-10, he would have a lot of the big people all over him. He’s not 6-10. He’s more like 6-7, but gosh, he’s fierce around the basket, has a motor. When I say bouncy, like Jo Harris was bouncy. Constant movement.”
The Chants also add freshman Justin Daniel, a 6-foot-4 two-guard from Dallas, Texas, who spent last season at a prep school in New Jersey, and 6-foot-4 point guard Ronald Trapps, who is from Lancaster, S.C., but spent last season at Fork Union Military Academy. They’ll join senior Charles Ashford, who saw minimal playing time last season, and sophomore Warren Gillis on the depth chart at the guard spots.
“We’re heavy in the backcourt with experience, but those are two guys I want to bring along,” Ellis said of Daniel and Trapps. “... These others, I’m going to use all my wherewithal [to get ready]. I’ve had the reputation of working with big guys and forwards, and I’m going to be spending a lot of time with those forwards and bigs.”
NOTES: Ellis confirmed that former top recruit Tyler Poole, a two-sport athlete who had initially committed to Ole Miss, has given up basketball and will focus on playing baseball for the Chants after undergoing a couple procedures on his knee while redshirting last season.
“Doctors have said pick one sport, with his knee issues that he can not take the wear and tear, and he made the choice to do baseball,” Ellis said. “I mean, he was a draft pick (38th round by the Boston Red Sox in 2011). We blessed that. It’s unfortunate that his knees wouldn’t allow him to do both, but it’s just the circumstances and he’ll be on the mound for coach Gilmore.”
Ellis also said senior forward Bisi Addey, who played sparingly last season, has had knee issues that have not allowed him to do much on the court this offseason.
Contact RYAN YOUNG at 626-0318.