CONWAY — The Coastal Carolina men’s basketball team opened preseason practice Friday afternoon with the announcement that senior guard Danny Nieman had been indefinitely removed from the program following an arrest the night before.
And with that, the Chanticleers have one more experienced veteran to replace.
The theme for this season was already youth and launching a new chapter of Coastal basketball as the team moves into its long-awaited new home – The HTC Center – with a roster featuring seven freshmen, which is the largest incoming class of first-year recruits coach Cliff Ellis has brought in during his time in Conway.
“We’ve had a group that has won a lot of games over the last few years,” Ellis said before practice. “This is a new group. I look at the past five years and I look at this new arena and where we’re going from here because now we’ve had an opportunity to open up a new arena and we’ve got a chance to build a team post-Kimbel [Arena] era. So that’s the way I’m looking at it.”
Ellis had minimal comments Friday about Nieman, who was arrested late Thursday night and booked into J. Reuben Long Detention Center on charges of DUI and hit and run involving property damage. Nieman made 47 starts over the last two years and averaged 26.7 minutes per game last season.
That leaves senior point guard Kierre Greenwood, senior shooting guard Anthony Raffa and to a lesser extent sophomore guard Warren Gillis as the team’s lone proven veterans. Greenwood enters his fourth-year as a starter and was named to the preseason All-Big South second-team, while Raffa returns as a preseason All-Big South first-teamer after leading the Chants in scoring last season at 16.7 points per game.
Ellis said senior Charles Ashford, who saw minimal playing time as a junior college transfer a season ago, would work as the team’s backup point guard.
The real question mark, though, is closer to the basket, where the Chants have no proven forwards or centers and will be counting on significant contributions from the freshmen newcomers. They lost a big piece there when veteran forward Sam McLaurin transferred to Illinois for his final season, so as Ellis put it, the team is rebuilding up front.
“The front line is where the question marks are,” Ellis said. “It’s going to be new faces all the way through the 3-4-5 spots, but I like this group.”
Michel Enanga, a 6-foot-5 freshman originally from Cameroon who played some prep basketball in Florida, is one player who has drawn considerable praise from Ellis. He flashed a big smile while talking about the role that awaits him this year.
“There’s a lot to learn in one time, so we always repeat it at practice,” Enanga said. “We do it again and again, and I think I can fit well in the system.”
Before his first interview with the local media, Enanga warned “You’ve got to go slow on me.” He spoke with a thick accent, but his excitement for the opportunity that awaits here at Coastal was plenty clear.
“I’m just so excited to be here,” he said. “When I heard that I could play here, I just had to sign. I came here for the visit, I just signed before leaving. I’m so excited.”
Badou Diagne (6-foor-7), Tristian Curtis (6-7) and Uros Ljeskovic (6-8) are among the other freshmen who could fill key roles in the front court for Coastal.
“It’s a lot different,” Raffa said. “I haven’t been on a team with seven freshmen. We were fortunate to have veteran bigs like Sam [McLaurin] and [Jon] Pack and all those guys who used to be here, but now we’ve got a whole bunch of new guys so we’ve just got to come together and support them the whole way.”
It’s going to be a process, Ellis acknowledged. He just hoping some of the youthful enthusiasm of Enanga and his fellow newcomers can translate into quick progress on the court.
“It’s hard for me to say [how we’ll be] because there’s just some guys who haven’t played under the lights,” Ellis said. “I think we’ve got a chance, but I’m not going to grade this team early. I know that we’ll be better in January, February, March and I’m hoping we’ll just get better and better and better as the year goes.”
Contact RYAN YOUNG at 626-0318.