Coming off consecutive 15-16 seasons, the UNC Asheville Bulldogs are looking to advance beyond their semi-final appearances in the Big South Conference tournament, as they play their last season in the venerable Justice Center. Next year the Dogs move into their new state-of-the-art 3,500 seat home, Kimmel Arena, and head coach Eddie Biedenbach (14th season, 196-218) plans to make this season memorable.
At the annual Big South Conference Basketball Tip-Off Media Luncheon held on October 12, UNC Asheville was picked to finish third in the conference. The Bulldogs earned 181 votes and picked up four first-place votes. Defending regular-season champion Coastal Carolina was picked first, followed by defending BSC champion Winthrop in second place. The Chanticleers received 206 votes, while the Eagles had 191 votes.
Asheville returns four starters and 11 lettermen from last year’s club that finished in fourth place in the league standings with an 11-7 record. The Bulldogs began slowly – a 3-12 start to the season due to an especially tough non-conference schedule of “guarantee” games against top-ranked competition – but recovered in the second half of the year to go 12-4.
“We want to be good the entire season, not just half the year,” admitted coach Biedenbach. “I am excited about the upcoming year. We think we have a chance to be a pretty good team this year but need to stay away from injuries.”
With 16 home games, including a February 19 BracketBuster game on ESPNU against an opponent to be named in late January, Biedenbach thinks this year could be special. A first-time meeting with Georgetown plus road games at Auburn, North Carolina and Ohio State highlights the 2010-11 schedule. The November 12 game at Auburn marks the inaugural game at the new Auburn Arena, which the Tigers just won’t want to lose.
“This is a great schedule for UNC Asheville,” declared Biedenbach. “We’re going to face a tough non-conference schedule with four games against BCS schools. However, it will be a good schedule for our young team to cut their teeth on and prepare us for the Big South Conference.”
The Bulldogs have been a young team for two years now, and this season they will be led by four returning starters including 6′ 4″ senior forward John Williams (Raleigh, NC), a pair of 6′ 1″ junior guards J.P. Primm (Dickson, TN) and Matt Dickey (Trussville, AL) and 6′ 3″ junior forward Chris Stephenson (Punta Gorda, FL).
Williams has been the team’s best leaper – often out-jumping opposing centers to open games – and has provided the Justice Center faithful with dozens of highlight reel dunks and spectacular plays. He also became the career-leader in blocked shots for the Bulldogs. His 82 blocks last season moved his career total to 209, some 19 more than the previous career-leader, C.J. Walker, who played from 2003-07.
Primm led the team in three categories: scoring (12.5 points per game), assists (172) and steals (64). The other two top scorers were Dickey and Williams, each of whom averaged 11.5 ppg.
“On paper, we measure up to be one of the teams to beat in the Big South,” stated Biedenbach. “However, I think there are about six teams that could win the league this season. I’ve seen in some magazines that we’ve been picked to win the conference, while others have us finishing in fifth or sixth place. We don’t know until we start some playing some games.”
The Blue and White will miss the departed Sean Smith, who was their 3-point specialist over the past two seasons, but Primm, Dickey and Stephenson are primed to step up to be the wingmen this season.
In addition to Williams, the Bulldogs have only one other senior on their roster, 6′ 8″ center Eric Stubbs (West Palm Beach, FL). A talented swing player who can play either in the backcourt or frontcourt, he started 28 games as a small forward last season, averaging 9.6 ppg, with 5.1 rebounds per game and was the third-leading three-point scorer for Asheville.
Six juniors will be counted on to provide leadership going into the team’s final season in the Justice Center. In addition to Primm (left), Dickey (right) and Stephenson, the Bulldogs will be counting on 6′ 5″ forward Quinard Jackson (West Palm Beach, FL); the Bulldogs’ tallest player, 7′ 2″ center Sean Hobbs (Columbus, OH) and Vincennes Junior College transfer 6′ 8″ forward Jon Nwannunu (Merrillville, IN).
Building the nucleus of the team that will open the Kimmel Center next year are five sophomores: 6′ 4″ guard Jaron Lane (Greenville, NC), a slasher who clocked a lot of quality minutes on the court last season; 6′ 10″ center D. J. Cunningham (Waterford, OH), who provided the size in the middle Asheville needs to compete in the Big South Conference; 6′ 8″ forward Jeremy Harn (Chapel Hill, NC); local favorite, 6′ 2″ guard Madison Davis (Waynesville, NC) and another 6′ 2″ guard, Josh Seligson (Raleigh, NC), who was redshirted last season.
Incoming freshman pups include 6′ 6″ forward Toles Hartman (Christiansburg, VA) and 6′ 2″ guard Trent Meyer (Ft. Lauderdale, FL).
Biedenbach’s coaching staff has been together for many years and provides tremendous continuity to the program. Assistant Coach Nick McDevitt will begin his 11th year as a Bulldog assistant…and was a four-year letterman for UNC Asheville from 1997-2001. Another former Bulldog, Brett Carey begins his fourth year as an assistant, and was a two-year letterman for the team from 1999-2001. Kotie Kimble also enters his fourth year with the Bulldogs, after serving as an undergraduate assistant coach at Coastal Carolina University.
The team’s game on February 26 against Big South foe Radford University will be the school’s homecoming contest and will be the last regular-season home basketball game to be played at the Justice Center. Elaborate ceremonies will mark the team’s nearly 50-year history at the facility. The university would host at least one post-season game at the Justice Center if they finish among the top four teams in the regular season standings.
Asheville will play just one exhibition game this season when they tip-off against Belmont Abbey on November 8 at the Justice Center. The Bulldogs open the regular season at Auburn on November 12 – the first game in Auburn’s new arena. The Dogs play their regular-season home opener against Virginia Intermont on November 20.
Coach Biedenbach’s Bulldogs began practice on Saturday, October 16, following their annual Jammin’ at the Justice program (held the evening before) – Asheville’s version of Midnight Madness. The highlight was the slam dunk competition which was won by defending champ John Williams. He began it by leaping over 7′ 2″ center Sean Hobbs continuing on to jump over 6′ 1″ J.P. Primm followed by a thunderous dunk. Click on this link to the YouTube video (televised on ESPN2′s FanNation show on October 21), Williams can really jump. This video does not do it “justice”, as it really was incredible in person.
“We had a good weekend of workouts,” stated Biedenbach. “Our guys have come back in shape and are ready to go.
“Obviously there’s a lot to work on but we’re in the right frame of mind, trying to get better with each day,” added the head coach.
I believe we have the makings of a high-quality basketball team that can compete for a championship,” added Biedenbach. “We need to be injury-free at certain positions, and we also need for some of our younger players to step up and make an impact.”
2011 NOTE: UNC Asheville has announced that the new Kimmel Arena will open on November 11, 2011 (11-11-11) when the Bulldogs host one of the nation’s perennial powers, the University of North Carolina Tarheels. UNC is coached by Asheville native Roy Williams, who spent many off-season hours shooting hoops in the Justice Center and has provided a rather nice gift to the University.