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Mountaineers men’s basketball tips off 2023-24 season with high hopes

Graduate+student+forward+Donovan+Gregory+brings+the+ball+up+the+court+against+Carlow+Dec.+7%2C+2022.+App+State+welcomes+Auburn+Sunday+for+the+first+power-five+matchup+in+Boone+since+2000.
Ashton Woodruff
Graduate student forward Donovan Gregory brings the ball up the court against Carlow Dec. 7, 2022. App State welcomes Auburn Sunday for the first power-five matchup in Boone since 2000.

After finishing the 2022-23 season with a first round Sun Belt Conference Tournament loss against South Alabama, the Mountaineers have higher aspirations entering the new season. 

App State will tip-off their 2023-24 season at Holmes Convocation Center Nov. 7 at 6:30 p.m. against Oakland City. This year’s preseason Sun Belt poll has the Mountaineers ranked second in the conference. The team has a winning mindset, but end of season results are not yet their main priority. 

“I think our expectations are just simply, instead of being result oriented, just simply trying to get better every day,” said head coach Dustin Kerns. “Really focusing on the little things and understating that’s why we’re in this position with the returners and experience.” 

The Mountaineers enter the season an experienced group, returning five starters from last season. Chemistry amongst the team has hit a high point. 

“Our chemistry is there,” said graduate student forward Donovan Gregory. “We’re playing for the next man instead of playing for ourselves.” 

Gregory along with senior forward CJ Huntley each received preseason Sun Belt honors. Gregory received first team conference honors, while Huntley was named a member of the third team. 

“People are going to lead in different ways, we have some people that lead vocal and also with actions,” Huntley said. “All of our older players are great leaders.”

 Gregory and Huntley finished first and third in points scored for the Mountaineers last season, and will take on larger leadership roles this year.

Junior guard Terrence Harcum looks through the Texas State defense Feb. 16, 2023. Harcum averaged 11.2 points per game last season. (Landon Williams)

Some other key returners for the Mountaineers include senior guard Xavion Brown, junior guard Terence Harcum, sophomore forward Justin Abson and junior forward Christopher Mantis. These players have all been trusted with key minutes throughout their time at App State. Each saw at least 10 starts last season, and they will be counted on once again in the 2023-24 season.

Experience amongst the team’s core will be complimented with a youthful depth chart as four of the Mountaineers six newcomers are freshman. 

Additionally, the Black and Gold added two skilled rotational players over the offseason. 

Junior guard Myles Tate joined the team via the transfer portal. Tate comes in from Butler where he started 18 games and factored into the Bulldogs rotation. He has a previously established relationship with the Mountaineers, as App State was in his top five colleges coming out of high school. 

App State also welcomes junior forward Tre’Von Spillers, who spent his previous two seasons at Moberly Area Community College, ledding junior college in blocks and earned National Junior College Athletic Association First Team All-American honors.

Along with on-court talent, the Mountaineers gained sideline experience heading into the 2023-24 season with the signing of new assistant coach Tanner Smith. Smith spent his previous two years at Stephen F. Austin, where he also served as an assistant coach. 

“We have a fantastic staff from top to bottom,” Smith said. “This is a players’ program that for us I think as a whole staff it’s really putting them first, and figuring out a way to put them in the best light possible.”

The Black and Gold have a difficult non-conference schedule prior to Sun Belt play. Notable matchups include UNC Asheville, UNC Wilmington and a highly anticipated home game against Auburn. The Mountaineers in-state performance will be crucial towards their overall success this season. 

Following their two game tip-off event in Fort Myers, Florida, concluding Nov. 22, the Black and Gold will not leave North Carolina until January. 

Important conference games for App State include matchups with James Madison and Louisiana. The Ragin’ Cajuns come in as the reigning Sun Belt champion, and the Dukes the only conference team ranked higher than the Mountaineers in the preseason poll. 

App State plays a home and road game against James Madison, both taking place in January. The Mountaineers single matchup with Louisiana will be held in Boone Feb. 27.

The Dec. 3 matchup with Auburn will mark App State’s first time hosting a Power 5 team since the Holmes Convocation Center opener against North Carolina in 2000. 

Auburn concluded last season with a record of 21-13 and a second round NCAA Tournament appearance. The Mountaineers look to even their multi-year three game series with the Tigers after losing the initial matchup 67-53 in 2020 in Auburn, Alabama. 

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About the Contributors
Fran Murphy, Reporter
Fran Murphy (he/him) is a junior digital journalism major, english minor, from Asheville, NC. This is his first year with The Appalachian.
Ashton Woodruff
Ashton Woodruff, Photo Editor
Ashton Woodruff (she/her) is a junior IDS Criminal Justice/Photojournalism major, and a Social Work minor. This is her second year with The Appalachian.
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