With four starters returning, including potential Southern Conference Player of the Year Kyle Hines, expectations are high in Greensboro. The Spartans are expected by many to be the best team in the North half of the league, but they'll have to surpass national darling Davidson to reach the NCAA Tournament. Third year head coach Mike Dement is the man who will try and lead UNCG back to the dance:
CHN) Based on what you saw last year, what's the biggest improvement your team needs to get to the next level?
Mike Dement) We improved defensively and with our rebounding last season and that will be another emphasis this year in order for us to get better. I think probably the biggest area that we can improve in and should become better at would be becoming more consistent in our perimeter shooting. Some of the freshmen shot the ball well at times last season, particularly as the year went on, and helped us win some games. But, in the SoCon Tournament, we shot poorly like we had in the early part of the season. Those shooters are back as sophomores and we have a couple of freshmen who shoot the ball well, too. Hopefully, we will be better from the perimeter, which in turn opens up the inside for Kyle Hines. Perimeter shooting makes it more difficult for teams to double and triple-team Kyle.
CHN) Are you settled with your starting lineup? Expect any particular battles for the open spots?
MD) We have a number of guys who started at times for us last year and with that experience should be in there again. Kyle Hines, Ben Stywall and Dwayne Johnson will see a lot of time on the floor. We should see Kevin Oleksiak – now a senior - and sophomores Mikko Koivisto and Kendall Toney competing for starting positions. Sophomore Pete Brown is back with some minutes under his belt. We would like to be able to use Ben Stywall some at his natural position of small forward / 3-man, but that might depend on how some other people come along. As always, a couple of freshmen will have to step up and give us some minutes off the bench.
CHN) It might be hard to pick out one, but who is the most talented player you've ever coached?
MD) Kyle Hines has to be in that list and very high. I was fortunate enough to have coached Jeryl Sasser (a first round pick of the Orlando Magic) and Quinton Ross (with the LA Clippers) during my time at SMU. They were very good at their positions, but Kyle is right there with them with how talented he is and how hard he plays. It is exceptional how much he gets done against any level of competition. Proof of that comes in his 50-game double-figure scoring streak that he starts this season with – the longest in the nation. Night after night he performs. That streak includes out of conference games against the ACC. Duke and NC State are in there twice each. In more than half of that streak, I think he has extended before halftime. He is a special player that will have a shot at the next level .
CHN) Talk about one or two guys that stand out as being underrated contributors to your team's success?
MD) From our returning group, that has to be Dwayne Johnson, our point guard. He is a guard that doesn't score much for us, but we can't do well without him on the floor. He sets the tone for us defensively out front and really runs our team. We are always asking him to look to score for us. However, in every game we won last season, he seemed to hit a big jump shot or free throws at a key moment of the game.
CHN) What do you think will be the hardest game on this year's schedule?
MD) I think it is another tough schedule for us this year - so take your pick. Davidson is getting some votes - and rightfully so - for the Pre-season Top 25. Kent State comes here in December after a great year last year. We play at Fordham to take our seniors Hines, Oleksiak and Johnson back close to home and Fordham has everyone back. We play two ACC teams in Georgia Tech and Virginia Tech and have Missouri State on their home court during their tournament. The entire Southern Conference, I think, will be stronger because it will be more balanced than last season, although Davidson clearly looks to be strong.
CHN) Realistically, what should the fans and media expect from your team this year?
MD) Hopefully, it will be a great year. We played well at times last year and found some ways to win on the road, which we hadn’t done the year before. That was a big step for us.
Hines is a special player with a shot to get to 2,000 points and 1,000 rebounds this season. That is something that less than 100 players in college basketball history have ever achieved. With this being his last year, we hope he stays healthy and enjoys a great season as a senior.
As a team, I think it remains to be seen if we can compete with the top teams from last season in Davidson, Appalachian State and College of Charleston. We played with them at times and stole one from Appalachian State at home, but we have to get better in a lot of areas to become more consistent, and beat those guys on a regular basis.