CCU Men’s Basketball

New look Chanticleers with plenty of questions as new basketball season dawns

ryoung@thesunnews.comNovember 7, 2012 

  • Season opener Who | Akron at Coastal Carolina When | 7:30 p.m. Friday Where | The HTC Center, Conway
  • Projected starting lineup PG Kierre Greenwood Year | Senior Height/Weight | 6-2/175 Last season | Averaged 11.1 points, 5.0 assists and 3.6 rebounds per game while shooting 46.8 percent from the field, 79.4 percent from the foul line and often guarding the opposing team’s top guard. Now enters his fourth season as a starter. Ellis says | “I think that he should be the best point guard in the league. He defends, he’s long, he can get to the hole, he’s good on the break. He needs to bring that.” G Anthony Raffa Year | Senior Height/Weight | 6-1/180 Last season | Led the team in scoring at 16.7 points per game and also paced the Chants with 57 steals and 45 3-pointers while starting all 31 games. Ellis says | “Raffa plays with a lot of energy. Sometimes he’ll gamble too much – I want him to kind of stay within what we need to do, but there’s no question we’ll look to him for scoring because he can score. ... He’s a tough kid. People don’t like to practice against him, people don’t like to play against him because he’s got some meanness to him. But I like that. We need that.” G Warren Gillis Year | Sophomore Height/Weight | 6-3/200 Last season | Made three starts and played in 30 games, averaging 15.3 minutes and 3.7 points overall. Ellis says | “Warren is improved. He’s been in the system one year, and you’re going to see the difference in him being here one year from him being here last year. Because he was like these [rookies] this year – he was trying to find himself, trying to figure it out. ... He’s really opened his game up, and I think just that little experience of that one year is really going to help him. We’ll look to him for scoring.” F Michel Enanga Year | Freshman Height/Weight | 6-5/210 Last season | Newcomer from Montverde Academy in Clermont, Fla. Ellis says | “I like this kid. I like everything about him. I like his attitude, I like the way he defends, I like the way he rebounds. This guy can and I think he will have a special career at Coastal. And he’s a guy who will be called on to play a lot of minutes as a freshman.” C El Hadji Ndieguene Year | Junior Height/Weight | 6-10/245 Last season | Newcomer from Lake Land College in Mattoon, Ill. Ellis says | “I have been very, very impressed with his energy down low. I think right now his defense is ahead of his offense, but he comes to play and he brings it. And what we will be expecting him to do is defend and rebound and get us some points down low. He’s got a good attitude.”

— When Cliff Ellis and his coaching staff first started looking ahead to the 2012-13 basketball season in terms of recruiting, they knew they were going to need to replace veteran 6-foot-11 center Jon Pack and versatile 6-foot-7 forward Chris Gradnigo. They didn’t know they were also going to have to fill the void of three-year starting forward Sam McLaurin, who ended up transferring to Illinois in the offseason, but nonetheless their task was clear.

The Coastal Carolina basketball program needed to find some size and tenacity in the post and rebuild its frontcourt with an eye toward the future.

And when Ellis made a recruiting visit to Florida to watch prep forwards Michel Enanga and Badou Diagne play, he had some confidence the Chanticleers were well on their way in that regard.

“I knew, and I told our staff, I said, ‘These guys I would sign if I were at Clemson or Auburn,’” said Ellis, who coached previously at both schools. “I said, ‘If we can get them, I’m not saying they’re first-team All-SEC or first-team All-ACC, but I would sign those guys if I were there.’ And we got them. So I knew – I said, this is good.”

The Chants would sign Enanga and Diagne as well as 6-foot-10 junior college transfer El Hadji Ndieguene and two more incoming freshmen in 6-foot-7 Tristian Curtis and 6-foot-8 Uros Ljeskovic to address their frontcourt needs, and well, Coastal’s upcoming season will largely be determined by how well – and how quickly – those newcomers progress as Division I basketball rookies.

When Coastal opens a new season Friday night inside The HTC Center against a formidable Akron squad, Enanga and Ndieguene are expected to debut in the starting lineup with Diagne slated to play big minutes off the bench as part of this retooled Chants roster that, in general, has many wondering just how this team is going to look.

At this point, not even Ellis knows for certain – but he’s highly encouraged.

“I want to see where this group can go,” he said. “They will set a tone, and I’m sure that they’ll make mistakes and do all that. We’re throwing them into a big fire, we really are. ... But I like them. This team, hopefully they’re better in January, February, March than they are right now.”

Having won 75 games over the last three seasons and coming off a 19-12 finish in 2011-12, Coastal was picked second in the Big South Conference’s South Division in a preseason coaches and media poll thanks to the proven senior backcourt of senior point guard Kierre Greenwood and senior shooting guard Anthony Raffa.

Greenwood was tabbed a preseason second-team All-Big South pick after averaging 11.1 points and 5.0 assists last season, and he now enters his fourth year as a starter. Adept at penetrating through the lane and making plays for others, Ellis has said he expects Greenwood should be the top point guard in the conference.

Raffa, the ever-energetic spark who averaged a team-best 16.7 points last season, was a first-team preseason All-Big South selection and should be asked to carry an even greater share of the offensive burden now as a senior.

Those two have been instrumental in the recent surge of the program these last three years and they’ll have to be every bit as influential this season for the Chants to maintain the new standard they’ve set.

“Your leadership needs to lead by example on the floor and off, but on the court, if they’re not defending, if they’re not making cuts, if they’re not doing the right things then it sets the wrong example,” Ellis said. “I really always look to our leaders because they’ve been in the system. They’re seniors, they’ve got to set the tone.”

Beyond that ...

Sophomore Warren Gillis, a 6-foot-3 guard, moves into the starting lineup this year after averaging 15.3 minutes and 3.7 points as a rookie.

Ndieguene joins the Chants after playing a season at Lake Land College in Illinois. Ellis says his defense is ahead of his offense at this point and the Chants will hope he can be a consistent presence on that end of the floor.

And Enanga, the rookie from Montverde Academy in Florida, has drawn as much praise as any player on the team this preseason – from Ellis and teammates – with his work ethic, athleticism and versatile skill set.

“He plays great D, he hustles, he rebounds, he does everything a coach wants,” Raffa said of Enanga. “And for our team, he’s going to be a threat at the 4 position because he can step out, he can take you off the dribble, he can do a lot with his game.”

How it all adds up, well, that’s to be determined.

“Practice is one thing, but you’ll never really know until you get that game experience and that game feel to see how everything’s going to gel together,” Greenwood said. “But from practice, I’m going into this confident. I feel like we should be OK.”

When the Chants take the floor Friday night in their first game in The HTC Center – the long-awaited new home of Coastal basketball – they’ll start working toward what Ellis views as the next chapter for the program as he enters his sixth year at the helm.

All the while, the question remains: can these Chants and all their new pieces match the standard set by the teams of the past three seasons?

“They will,” Ellis said. “Now can they do it this year? I don’t know. I’m not going to put that pressure on them because they are young, but they will. I think this freshman group will have glory days. I do. Now, when that’s going to happen, I don’t know.”

Contact RYAN YOUNG at 626-0318.

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