Although the 2012-13 Arkansas-Pine Bluff men’s basketball team did not get to compete for an automatic bid in the NCAA tournament last season, that group left the 2013-14 edition with plenty to build on.
UAPB finished with its first winning season in three years, going 16-14 and 15-3 in the SWAC. The Golden Lions went undefeated at home and have an 11-game winning streak inside H.O. Clemmons Arena. And two All-SWAC players from last season have returned.
So the Lions began practice over the weekend with a lot to try and improve on.
“Anytime you can go 15-3, we think that’s something that’s going to keep us motivated to play,” sixth-year head coach George Ivory said.
But in looking ahead, there’s still no postseason in sight — for now. UAPB and Mississippi Valley State were penalized for the second straight year with a postseason ban by the NCAA for a low Academic Progress Rate. UAPB is lobbying to get the ban overturned, citing a mistake in a previous roster used to figure the APR.
“We’re going to fight to the end to get this done,” Ivory said. “If you look at other schools that have lost kids because of APR, none of our kids have transferred out. That means we’re doing something good to keep these kids here to stay here at the university.”
Five Lions from last season have exhausted their eligibility, including All-SWAC center Terrell Kennedy (13.9 points per game last season) and three-point specialist Lazabian Jackson (11.9). Those two, along with current senior forward Davon Haynes (11.9), were the Lions’ three leading scorers.
That means junior point guard Tevin Hammond (7.4 points) will be called on to produce more.
“Probably the only thing different is that I have to take a bigger role with this offense, knowing I have better scoring and people who want to score the ball,” said Hammond, the team’s leading assist man a season ago.
UAPB has gained a big man to help All-SWAC player Daniel Broughton, now a senior, in the low blocks. Six-foot-9 posts Sean Tingle, a transfer from Shelton State Community College in Alabama, and David Tillman, a recent graduate of Fort Bend (Texas) Travis High School, are expected to see plenty of action this season.
“It opens me up for my little jumpshot and my mid-range game and then another guy to go down and get boards with me,” said Broughton, who scored only 7.2 ppg as a junior.
Ivory also added depth in the backcourt for more quickness in the pressing game and a faster-paced offense. Freshman walk-on Jordan Brown of Augusta and Faulkner State (Ala.) Community College transfer Deandre McIntyre, both 6-3 guards, can play the small and power forward positions in the press, Ivory said.
Freshman Ghiavonni Robinson, a 6-foot-3 guard from Itta Bena, Miss., who was Ivory’s first signee of the past offseason, may give UAPB more scoring help. He averaged 23 points, 10 assists and eight rebounds per game at Leflore County High School.
Robinson and Tillman are the only two of Ivory’s four original signees for this season currently on the UAPB roster. Pine Bluff High alumnus JoVaughn Love, who spent the past two years at Seminole (Okla.) CC, will medically redshirt this season with a torn meniscus, and Sterling Smoak of Motlow State (Tenn.) CC did not academically qualify to play at UAPB, Ivory said.
UAPB also has a new face on its coaching staff in Jarvis Gunter, who played for the Golden Lions from 2003-07 under Van Holt. Gunter replaces Matthew Smith, who became the head coach at Lawson State (Ala.) CC.
Gunter is the fourth new assistant under Ivory in three years.
Sticking with Ivory’s scheduling philosophy, UAPB won’t play a home game until Jan. 18 when defending SWAC champion Southern visits for the Lions’ fourth SWAC game of the year. UAPB opens the season Nov. 8 against Wisconsin-Green Bay in the HBCU Tip-Off Championship in Atlanta and has a challenging nonconference slate ahead, including games at Oklahoma State, Air Force, Texas A&M, Oregon State, Creighton, Iowa and Auburn.
“Playing tough competition this year will give us experience on the road because we’re such a young team,” Ivory said.