A number of Division I basketball teams will tip off their season on Friday, and Arkansas-Pine Bluff was supposed to be one of them.
But the highly anticipated HBCU Tip-Off Championship was halted before it could ever take off, and UAPB was left scrambling to schedule some games for the first week.
Instead of taking on two Division I programs at Philips Arena in Atlanta, UAPB will play a pair of Division II programs, Tuskegee (Ala.) at 2 p.m. Central on Sunday and Morehouse (Ga.) at 6 p.m. Monday, at the latter’s Forbes Arena in the city. The Golden Lions were to open up with Wisconsin-Green Bay, Norfolk State and then Tuskegee.
“The competition level is higher, and they would get us ready for the bigger teams we have to play during the season,” senior forward Davon Haynes said of Green Bay and Norfolk State. “It’s kind of a disappointment, but we’re kind of ready for whatever team we have to play.”
Other than that, the Lions handled the schedule change really well, coach George Ivory said.
“They’re just looking forward to playing some games,” he said. “It’s good to get some games in the regular season, regardless of whether it’s Division I or Division II.”
Taking on Tuskegee and Morehouse will give the Lions a shot at a rare 2-0 start for their program. They’ve never even won a season opener under Ivory, who’s beginning his sixth season at the helm.
The Lions will need to taste much as much victory as possible before visiting eighth-ranked Oklahoma State on Nov. 15. That marks the start of at least 10 straight nonconference games against mostly major-conference programs, all away from Pine Bluff.
And if UAPB’s progress from the first day of practice last month is an indicator, guard Tevin Hammond likes his team’s chances to be competitive each game.
“I think we’re a whole lot better” from that first day, Hammond said. “We’ve been working on our defense and our 2-3 zone, and I think we’ve been making good progression with that. From where we started from until now, I think we’re a whole lot better.”
Hammond said the Lions have improved the most in their inside game, where senior center Daniel Broughton, junior-college transfer Sean Tingle and Haynes should make plenty of contributions.
“We’ve been focusing on our rebounding, getting out and running and scoring a lot more,” Ivory said. “It should be an exciting brand of basketball.”
On average, UAPB was outrebounded 38-34.3 and scored 62.7 points per game last season, but finished with a 16-14 overall record. The Lions lost leading scorer Terrell Kennedy (13.3 ppg) to graduation, but Haynes was second on the team at 11.9.
Ivory said he’s been impressed with Hammond’s and Haynes’ leadership and the progress of freshman post David Tillman. He added junior transfer DeAndre McIntyre and freshman Ghiavonni Robinson, both guards, are competing for a starting role.