After losing three of their top scorers in Deon Boyce, James Turner and Javon Moore and going 11-16 last season, the UVa–Wise Cavaliers men’s basketball team started their first practice of the year over fall break.
The Cavaliers have five returners and add nine newcomers to their roster for the 2014 season. Head Coach Blake Mellinger, who succeeded former head coach Lee Clark at the beginning of the 2013 season, believes that the team is heading in the right direction to be successful this coming season.
“Obviously we’re not where we need to be, not where we want to be. But most teams aren’t this time of year,” Mellinger said. “We’re still very much a work in progress, but at the same time I’m fairly pleased with where we’re at, but we still have a long way to go.”
According to Mellinger, the legacy that Boyce left behind is going to leave a void that the team as a whole can fill together, but he sees that senior Tyler Maggard, sophomore Oliver Thompson and sophomore Brian Sydnor have stepped up and improved in the offseason.
“Tyler Maggard, I think he’s realizing this is his last go around, so he’s really come a long way from even where he was last year,” Mellinger said. “Oliver Thompson is another guy who didn’t play a lot of minutes last year, but has really improved really developed his game. He’s another guy who could see significant minutes if things continue to move forward for him. Bryan Sydnor was a freshman last year, he has really improved; really come along since his freshman year.”
Maggard had the third highest three point shooting percentage last season, and has now emerged as a leader for the team being its only senior.
“Personally for my senior year I want to make more shots to help the offense and hopefully get my grades up and help the team GPA,” he said. “Expectations for the team have never changed. We want to be playing the last game in Charleston in March.”
According to Maggard, his relationship with his teammates and coaches has gotten stronger.
“We have hung out a lot more off the court and become more of a family,” he said. “Me and Coach Mell have been here a long time together and he has really [begun] to trust me more over the years.”
Thompson, a sophomore who was redshirted his first year and played limited minutes during his second year, could become a real asset to the Cavaliers this season.
“I’ve worked to improve my game this offseason by getting in the gym every day,” he said. “The biggest parts of my game that I have focused on are my ball handling and shot creation. As a team we have set the goal that no team will out work us on the court. We aren’t the biggest team in the conference or the most seasoned team in the conference, but we will display a hunger to win every game so that we regret nothing, win or lose.”
The Cavaliers start the season against Elizabeth City State University on Friday, Nov. 14.