App State men’s basketball looks to capitalize on momentum in 2020

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Lynette Files

Senior preseason first team all-Sun Belt selection Justin Forrest drives in last year’s 70-62 loss at NC State. After finishing above .500 last season for the first time since 2010-11, the Mountaineers are looking for more in 2020-21.

Ben Brady, Reporter

Throughout an unusual offseason defined by uncertainty, App State men’s basketball has spent the past few months preparing themselves for anything. As the season quickly approaches, the Mountaineers are hopeful to maintain their highest level of play. 

“It’s been challenging. With any normal season, we would have had things planned out up until our first game, but now we have to take a week by week approach,”  head coach Dustin Kerns said. “We’ve got to control what we can control, and believe that nothing will break us.” 

Though the team was unable to practice together for the majority of the offseason, and training work had to be done in small groups over the summer, the coaching staff said the players kept themselves disciplined and in shape. 

“When they weren’t in Boone, our staff was checking in on all the players on a daily basis,” said assistant coach Frank Young. “We wanted to see what they were eating, if they had access to a gym, and if they were finding ways to better themselves, so we were able to integrate our fundamentals and our core values pretty quickly.”

Young and assistants Patrick Moynihan and Bob Szorc each worked under Kerns at Presbyterian College and moved to Boone alongside Kerns last year. In their first season with the Mountaineers, Kerns and the coaching staff helped lead the team to their most wins since 2009-10 at 18 and most Sun Belt wins ever with 11. 

  In the absence of graduated senior leaders Isaac Johnson, O’Showen Williams and Hunter Seacat, the team looks to younger players to step up and fill roles. The coaching staff especially praised the development and leadership of sophomores Donovan Gregory and Kendall Lewis over the offseason.

Gregory, a 6-foot-5-inch guard, started in two games last year, averaging 1.8 points and 2.0 rebounds per game. This season, he looks to fulfill a bigger role on the team.

“All of it is really just a process,”  Gregory said. “The coaching and staff and my teammates never lost confidence in me, and it allowed me to become a leader for this team.”

Over the offseason, 6-foot-7-inch wing Kendall Lewis put emphasis on improving his perimeter shooting. With the help of assistant coach Frank Young, who, during his playing time at West Virginia, broke the record for three-pointers made in a single season, Lewis gained a newfound trust in his jump shot.  

“He kept seeing the ball go in the basket more and more, and that helped his confidence,” said Young. “His jumper is much more consistent, and that should help us move forward this year.”

Coming off a season that saw him land first team all-Sun Belt honors after averaging a team-high 17.3 points, returning senior Justin Forrest was recently named to the preseason first team all-Sun Belt. 

“Those achievements came from my teammates and coaches pushing me and telling me there’s another level I can push myself to,”  Forrest said. “My goal for this year is to keep being a team player and to do whatever I can to help this team win.”

The other returning players, sophomores Andrew Muse and Bryant Greene, junior Adrian Delph, redshirt freshman R.J. Wilson, redshirt junior James Lewis Jr., and senior Jamie Baker, are each taking on a larger role this season. 

“They’re all on different races, they’re gonna finish the race, but at some points throughout the four years some might be ahead of others,”  Kerns said. “We switch teams every day in practice to get those guys experiences in different lineups and scenarios.” 

The Mountaineers are set to tip off the season on Nov. 25 at South Carolina State, at a time yet to be announced.