Under new coaching staff, men’s basketball looks to compete right away

Dan Davidson

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After suffering eight-straight losing seasons, App State Athletics made a change to the coaching position, in hopes of spurring on new success in men’s basketball. 

First-year head coach Dustin Kerns has proven he can help turn around a program. He comes off a triumphant season in his second year at Presbyterian College, where he led his team to 20 wins. Before last season, Presbyterian had never won 15 games in a season. 

The Mountaineers have not made an appearance in the NCAA tournament since 2000, but hopes of turning the page on decades of little success are high in Boone. 

“We want to win the Sun Belt Championship. We’re coming in and expecting to win right away,” junior guard Justin Forrest said. “Coach Kerns always pushes that we’re not in a rebuilding mode; we’re coming in to win right away. We want teams to know that we’re not afraid.”

Last year, Forrest was the second-leading scorer for the Mountaineers with a career-high 16.2 points per game, and led the team in steals with 37. He’ll carry more of the scoring load this year after Ronshad Shabazz’s graduation, who averaged 18.3 points per game last season.. 

Forrest said he worked on his game during the offseason, but emphasized his desire to take on more of a leadership role this season. 

“We’ve got a lot of young guys, so I want to be a leader on and off the court so my teammates can learn from me as I learn from them,” Forrest said. 

The Mountaineers also return seniors Isaac Johnson and Hunter Seacat, junior Michael Bibby, and sophomores Adrian Delph, James Lewis Jr. and Breki Gylfason. 

Johnson posted 8.6 rebounds per game during his junior campaign, good for second in the Sun Belt. Johnson averaged 10 points per game on a career-high 51.2% shooting. 

Johnson said he is not focused on his own success heading into the season. Instead, he is focused on doing what he can to help his teammates. 

“It’s a special year because it’s my senior year. I’m trying to bring everything I can to the team,” Johnson said. “If the young guys need any help or advice, I’m there for them.”

Several newcomers join the Black and Gold this season. Freshmen Donovan Gregory, Kendall Lewis, J.C. Tharrington, R.J. Wilson, Andrew Muse and Bryant Greene all begin their college basketball careers this year. Junior Jamie Baker also joins the program after beginning his career at Presbyterian with Kerns. 

The transition to college basketball can be difficult for freshmen, but Gregory says he’s enjoyed the challenge. 

“It’s tough, but it’s good stuff. We’re getting better every day, and at the pace we’re practicing, I think the games will be a lot easier than the practices,” Gregory said. 

As the season draws near, more and more optimism continues to grow among the team. 

“I think this is going to be a really good team. The bond we have off the court is what makes us special, so I think this could be a really exciting year for us,” Gregory said. 

App State starts its season with an away game versus the Michigan Wolverines on Nov. 5.