In Richard Morgan's first season as the head men's basketball coach at Bluefield College, the Ramblin' Rams repeated as Appalachian Athletic Conference champions.
November 3, 2010
The Rams are ready for a tough 2010 season led by head coach Richard Morgan and assistant coach Keith Jennings (below).
BLUEFIELD, Va. — In Richard Morgan's first season as the head men's basketball coach at Bluefield College, the Ramblin' Rams repeated as Appalachian Athletic Conference champions.
That team included AAC Player of the Year Omar Reed. a fact that Morgan admits certainly didn't hurt their chances.
"When you have the best player in the league it is really easy, he was the stud, obviously, and when you have a guy like that, if you just don't mess it up you should be fine," Morgan said. "I didn't know the second day into practice he would sprain his ankle really, really bad and left him very limited to what we could do getting ready for the season.
"We felt like we got better as he got healthy and as the other guys got comfortable playing without him and that way if he ever got into foul trouble we could be fine because of the guys not being with him."
Bluefield finished with a 17-16 overall mark, but an 11-5 league mark was enough to give the Rams the AAC title. Virginia-Wise claimed the conference tournament, but Morgan was pleased with his first season after replacing ultra-successful Jason Gillespie at the Dome Gymnasium.
"The biggest thing I took from last year is just to keep it simple, and don't mess it up with having the best player in the league and I felt like we did that," Morgan said. "We had some luck from some other people that lost and some upsets, but it came down to us putting on a good little run to win the league."
Morgan is back, hoping for a third straight AAC crown, but Reed is now playing professionally in London.
"He definitely deserves being over there and I think he will do a nice job for them," Morgan said. "I hope I can get another one like him."
Until then Morgan likes what remains, led by Rob Wright. A transfer from Virginia Union, Wright played the second semester last season, and averaged 15.3 points a contest for the Rams.
"I think we are going to have more of a team now, but the first person that comes to mind is Rob Wright," said Morgan, in trying to find a replacement for Reed's contributions. "I think we will rely a lot on him and his senior leadership to carry us to hopefully another AAC championship."
Bluefield will open its 2010-11 campaign on Thursday by hosting Barber-Scotia. That will follow with a visit to Lee University in Tennessee on Saturday.
"Basically everybody is healthy and they are playing hard and going hard," said Morgan, a former ACC standout at Virginia, who also played professionally in the CBA and overseas. "I think they just want to play against somebody else so we are looking forward to that and getting another opponent in here.
"Now it counts so you get different play out of the guys."
Wright will be joined in the rotation by sophomore point guard Carlton Shumake, while Borgia M'Bala is accomplished at connecting from 3-point range. Ted O'boute and Marcus Jackson will share time at power forward, with the center position manned by 6-foot-7 Bryan Carpenter or 7-foot Egor Shakhmetov. Melvin Henderson will serve as Shumake's backup.
"I think we will be pretty balanced. Carlton is going to run our team and he gets the ball to everybody, Borgia is going to shoot his 3 like he always does, and hopefully do a nice job for us," Morgan said. "I think we are looking for big things out of Carpenter inside, he is going to man the middle for us, along with Egor."
The 7-foot Shakhmetov from Russia, who is best friends with Bluefield teammate Dmitry Zimin, has the ability to play inside or step outside and shoot the 3.
"His toughness is good, he is very skilled around the basket, he loves to shoot the 3," Morgan said. "He is going be really, really talented for us in the league for sure and hopefully will help us in some of these non-conference games to help us get over the hump."
With a roster of 18, Morgan expects to have plenty of depth, and the ability to use different types of lineups depending on the matchups.
"It is kind of however I want to go. If I want to go big, I can, if I want to be quick, I can do that too," said Morgan, who is assisted by Keith "Mister" Jennings, who was a standout at East Tennessee State and spent three seasons with the NBA's Golden State Warriors. "Last year I really couldn't do a lot of that, this is going to be something new for us with the idea of being able to go in the post is really going to help us.
"I think we had a lot of guys last year that really weren't post players and now I have two post players I can throw the ball inside to."
There is plenty more talent on the roster, and Morgan says all will have roles. He knows his challenge is keeping all of them happy.
"You are really going to have to concentrate on making sure everybody buys into the team and not the individual accolades," Morgan said. "All of that will come if you just play as a team and win, and win being the emphasis on the whole outcome of everything.
"If they win I know they will be hard to stop us. It will be a situation where if we can keep rolling guys in and out I think we can wear people down and get the better end of it."
A rule change in the AAC means the Rams will play no league games before Christmas, but Bluefield won't be taking it easy. The schedule ahead is tough, and all the teams are at least NAIA Division I, NCAA Division II and three games — including two exhibitions — against Division I foes, Charleston Southern, Tennessee Tech and Winston-Salem State.
Add Mountain State, Lee, Concord, King and others and no wonder Morgan expects the Rams to be prepared when January arrives, especially with a roster that has just one senior..
"I thought we would try to play the toughest people so we when we get to the league it would prepare us to go to some of the places we have to go to and also get these puppies ready for a hostile environment because that is what it is in the league," Morgan said. "I like it better because you can lock in and get yourself mentally prepared in the league."
Bluefield, which has regularly been the preseason pick to win the AAC in recent seasons, was selected third this year, trailing Bryan and Tennessee Wesleyan.
Morgan figures it's because of the loss of Reed, but that will serve as motivation for the Rams.
"That has to be the first time in a while that we have been picked third," Morgan said. "That is fine, I like that, I like hunting other people and not being hunted, but I think that is definitely something we can use in the locker room to get them motivated every night that nobody thinks you're in the big dog in the league anymore because one player leaves.
"You still have to go out and play the game and improve yourself every night and that is the mark of a great basketball team."
Morgan said the keys to Bluefield success are many, including staying healthy, playing defense from the start to finish, maintaining their intensity and dealing with the growing pains of a roster that includes 13 sophomores and freshmen.
He also thinks this team has the potential to finish where recent Bluefield clubs have finished. On top in the AAC.
"I think they can," Morgan said. "If everything falls into place and no one gets injured I think we compete again at that high level for the championship."
Courtesy of Brian Woodson; Bluefield Daily Telegraph