Last Season: 29-6 Overall, (15-3 CAA), 1st Place, CAA Tournament Champions
Projected Finish: 5th
Preseason All-Conference Selections: Devontae Cacock (First Team), Jordon Talley (Honorable Mention)
- G Tyrone Taylor (Sophomore, Wichita State)
- C Trey Kalina (Junior, JUCO/Chattanooga)
- G Jacque Brown (Junior, Cape Fear CC)
- G Daniel Etoroma (Junior, Lewis and Clark Community College)
- G Jeffrey Gary (Colorado Springs, Colo./Sand Creek)
- G Jay Estimé (Lilburn, Ga./Berkmar)
- G C.J. Bryce (17.4 ppg, 5.4 rpg, 3.0 apg)
- G Chris Flemmings (15.8 ppg, 5.6 rpg)
- G Denzel Ingram (14.6 ppg, 5.4 apg)
- G Ambrose Mosely (8.2 ppg, 42% 3PT PCT)
- C Chuck Ogbodo
by Justin Littman
Last season was another incredible success for the UNC Wilmington Seahawks. They finished atop the CAA for the third consecutive season, and plenty of players received accolades for their performance. Senior guards Chris Flemmings (15.8 ppg, 5.6 rpg) and Denzel Ingram (14.6 ppg, 5.4 apg) rounded out their illustrious careers by earning First and Second Team All-CAA Honors, respectively. Sophomore forward Devontae Cacok evolved into a threat on both sides of the court, leading the nation in field-goal percentage (80%) and earning the CAA Defensive Player of the Year award. If that was not enough, they also happened to have the runner-up for CAA Player of the Year, and CAA Tournament MVP, C.J. Bryce. Bryce, only a sophomore last season, led the team in scoring with over 17 points per game, and showed dynamic offensive ability.
UNCW managed to capture the hearts of every mid-major college basketball fan. They played with passion and energy, and pulled fans in with an attitude that reflected the mentality of head coach Kevin Keatts. The Seahawks ran through the CAA, and earned their second consecutive NCAA Tournament bid. Led by a rising superstar head coach, and armed with experience, the Seahawks appeared ready to take the nation by storm. Unfortunately, the harsh reality of the NCAA Tournament set in, and the Seahawks joined an unfortunate group of many potential Cinderellas before, unable to earn their shining moment in the Big Dance. A magical season came to a premature end with an opening round loss to Virginia. Fans who saw even greater potential for UNCW learned a painful lesson: Not every magical story turns into a fairytale.
Less than 24 hours after their season ended, NC State announced that Kevin Keatts had agreed to terms to become their new head coach. Following the success that Keatts had with UNCW, it seemed to be only a matter of time before he left for a position of more prestige. It only took a few more months for C.J. Bryce to decide that he wanted to continue playing for his coach, and he followed suit to NC State. Kevin Keatts helped return UNCW to prominence, and even though Cacok is the only starter that will return next season, this program has a lot of momentum to build off.
It is for this reason that new head coach C.B. McGrath felt UNCW was the right situation for him to finally depart from his role as an assistant for the UNC Tar Heels. McGrath played at Kansas under Roy Williams, and continued to serve as his assistant coach at North Carolina for 14 years. He will implement new philosophies as a first-year head coach, and will look to establish a new identity for the Seahawks. With the departure of four starters, there will be various players ready to assume larger roles with the team. To learn more about what to expect this season, I reached out to Noah J. Thomas, sports editor of UNCW’s student newspaper, The Seahawk.
Justin: UNCW was an up-tempo, offensive juggernaut under Keatts. How will their identity change with a new head coach?
Noah: As far as the change in identity goes, don’t expect the UNCW offense to dip too far in production this season. Will the Seahawks average nearly 90 points per game in 2018? No. But the “Run. Defend. Win.” mentality is still very much alive in Wilmington. The key difference between Keatts’ system and McGrath’s will be what position becomes the focal point of the offense. Keatts used a variety of small lineups to keep opposing defenses guessing and guard play was always the top priority. If McGrath attempts to emulate Roy Williams’ system, expect the big men to become the focal point. That means reigning CAA Defensive POTY Devontae Cacok may see a rise in production in his junior year.
Justin: Coming from the Roy Williams coaching tree, C.B. McGrath appears to be a good hire.
Noah: You’re right. This is the second head coach in a row UNCW has hired who is coming from a Hall-of-Fame coaching tree (Kevin Keatts was an assistant at Louisville under Rick Pitino). On paper, this seems to be the perfect hire for the Seahawks. In his first head coaching gig, McGrath brings in an up-temp mentality similar to what Keatts brought when he arrived in 2014.
Justin: Where will production come from? Are there any players you think will have a breakout season?
Noah: As I said before, look for Devontae Cacok to possibly become the focal point of this offense. He already averaged a near double-double in his sophomore season, and he only has room to improve as he masters his touch around the rim and attempts to raise his free-throw shooting percentage.
UNCW’s breakout star for 2018? Look no further than Jaylen Fornes. The sophomore out of Raleigh, N.C., showed flashes of brilliance at times during his freshman year. There were multiple occasions during last CAA season in which he either 1. Made the difference for UNCW in a tight game or 2. Helped swing the momentum in the Seahawks’ direction. Increased playing time this season and a potential role as the starting shooting guard will only allow him to flourish. Expect Fornes to be the big surprise out of Wilmington this season.
Jordan Talley will contribute a lot, as he will likely become the starting point guard. Expect Ty Taylor, a transfer from Wichita State, to step into a supporting role.
Justin: Where do you see UNCW finishing in the CAA this season?
Noah: Oh boy. I’ve thought about this a lot over the last few months. Let me say this: I don’t think anyone in the CAA will be able to touch College of Charleston this season. The Cougars returned virtually everything that made them great a year ago, so I don’t the Seahawks or any CAA team will be able to match their experience and drive to win.
That being said: I don’t believe UNCW will have a bad year in 2017-2018. It will be a rebuilding year with some growing pains and a fair amount of rebuilding. A new-look team and a first-year head coach doesn’t help in that department, but you never know. McGrath and his guys could surprise us like Kevin Keatts did three years ago. My prediction is UNCW finishes in the top five in the conference — possibly as high as third or fourth — and maybe wins a game in the CAA Tournament if the Seahawks hit their stride. That’s about all UNCW fans can hope for this year, I’m afraid.
Bottom Line: The Seahawks are losing four starters who combined to average over 55 points per game. They simply will not be able to make up that production overnight. However, there is an influx of talent that will be joining UNCW this season. Ty Taylor represents one of four transfers who will enter the program. The other three all spent time playing college basketball outside of Division I, following in the footsteps of Chris Flemmings. In total, the Seahawks will add six new players this season. Combined with a new head coach, they will likely need time to gel. UNCW may be in a rebuilding year, but the term rebuilding means something different in Wilmington than it does for most CAA teams. This team will be competitive in conference play and likely finish in the middle of the pack, setting a strong foundation for continued success in the future.