CAA Preview: UNCW Seahawks

Head Coach: C.B. McGrath (third season)

Last Season: 10–23 (5–13), tenth place CAA, lost in CAA semifinal

CAA Preseason Poll Finish: Ninth

Losses

  • G Ty Taylor II
  • G Jaylen Fornes
  • G Jacque Brown
  • F Devontae Cacok
  • F Jeantal Cylla
  • F Shawn O’Connell

Additions

  • G Mike Okauru
  • G Shykeim Phillips
  • G/F Carter Skaggs
  • G/F Jake Boggs
  • F Imajae Dodd

By Christian Skroce

After a trip to the CAA semifinals in C.B. McGrath’s first year as head coach, UNCW looked to build upon their success in 2018–19. Projected to finish fifth in the conference, the Seahawks had the makings of a CAA dark horse. But looks can be deceiving.

UNCW had one of their worst seasons in recent memory, finishing dead last in the CAA regular season standings. In an attempt to show their season wasn’t a total disaster, the Seahawks pulled off a tournament win against seventh-seeded Elon before fizzling out in the quarterfinals with a 80–59 drubbing from Northeastern. For a once-top-tier team in the CAA, there were far more questions than answers, and the bad news continued during the offseason.

While everyone knew the day would come, it was still difficult for many to say goodbye to senior forward Devontae Cacok. The talented forward and fan-favorite had become the face of the program, and UNCW will have to adjust to life without Cacok on and off the court.

Cacok went undrafted but signed an Exhibit 10 contract with the Los Angeles Lakers in June. Though the team cut him in October before the start of the regular season, his performance in Summer League and preseason was outstanding. He is now on the training roster for the South Bay Lakers, the team’s G-League affiliate.

Three other offseason losses for the Seahawks came as a complete surprise. On the same day, junior guards Jaylen Fornes and Ty Taylor II both announced they would be transferring from UNCW. Although neither were elite players, they provided valuable bench minutes and would have contributed a veteran presence for a team now missing their leader.

But the offseason’s biggest shock came a few days later, when junior forward Jeantal Cylla announced he would be transferring — he eventually landed at the University of Arkansas. Cylla was a key player for the Seahawks last season, averaging 13.7 points and 4.6 rebounds as part of the formidable frontcourt with Cacok.

Despite the losses, the offseason was not all doom and gloom. The Seahawks are bringing in two transfer guards: grad Carter Skaggs from Washington State and junior Mike Okauru from Florida. Both players provide much-needed experience for a team losing several leaders.

Skaggs enjoyed a nice two-year career at Washington State, averaging 7.2 points in 56 career games. Okauru will be the more interesting of the two, as he never quite found his groove at Florida, averaging just 2.6 points in 69 career games. Despite his poor numbers, Okauru has the talent and athleticism to succeed alongside returning point guard Kai Toews, who averaged an astonishing 7.7 assists during this freshman campaign.

Junior guard Ty Gadsden averaged 12 ppg last year on a ridiculous 48 percent from three. He will likely miss the first month of the season after surgery on both hips and for a sports hernia, per Brian Mull.

Joining Okauru and Skaggs this season is a solid freshman class. Among the newcomers are forwards Imajae Dodd and Jake Boggs and guard Shykeim Phillips. While Phillips’ minutes will likely be limited, the Seahawks are likely to ask a lot from Dodd and Boggs. The duo, along with returning forwards John Bowen and Martin Linssen, look to fill the massive shoes left by Cacok and Cylla.

Rebounding is another concern. Cacok pulled down a CAA-best 12.3 boards per contest last year and was the nation’s top rebounder the year before. Cylla, at 4.6 rebounds a night, was second on the team. Without them, the rebounding will likely be done by committee.

Bottom Line: Expectations are low for the Seahawks this season, as they probably can’t replace Cacok and Cylla in one year. Gadsden and Toews bring intelligence and athleticism to the backcourt, but if the newcomers can’t pick up the pace on the boards, it’ll be a long season for the Seahawks.

CAA Class of 2019 Goes Pro

Picture credit: nuhuskies.com

By Milton Posner

On April 7th, four CAA basketball players stood on a speedily assembled court in America’s largest shopping mall as dollar bills fluttered around them.

Northeastern’s Vasa Pusica, Hofstra’s Justin Wright-Foreman, Charleston’s Jarrell Brantley, and UNCW’s Devontae Cacok had won the Dos Equis 3X3U National Championship — and its $100,000 prize — after seven straight wins over teams representing other conferences.

It was an entertaining, financially rewarding experience for two-thirds of the CAA’s 2019 First Team. But it would pale in comparison to where they were headed.

Pusica went first. Two weeks after the 3X3U Tournament, he signed a contract with KK Partizan, the winningest team in his native Serbia’s top basketball league. Since joining the team, he has averaged eight points, two rebounds, and two assists over 12 games. Pusica possesses the deliberate ballhandling, mature decision-making, and versatile scoring skill to isolate or to attack in the pick-and-roll.

Brantley and Wright-Foreman went next. The Indiana Pacers drafted Brantley with the 50th pick, then flipped him to the Utah Jazz for Utah’s 2021 second-round pick and $2 million. The Jazz also nabbed Wright-Foreman 53rd with their own pick. It marked the first time since 1992 that two CAA players were chosen in the same draft.

Both have great upside; Brantley is a 6-foot-7-inch, 255-pound powerhouse boasting strong athleticism, positional versatility, and a diverse offensive skill set. Wright-Foreman is an electric combo guard who displays blazing quickness, on-the-catch and off-the-dribble shooting, and strong drives courtesy of deft handles and space-consuming spins.

On Tuesday, the Jazz signed both of them to two-way contracts. These contracts allow players to alternate between the NBA and G League (minor league basketball). Brantley and Wright-Foreman will likely spend most of their time with Utah’s G League affiliate (the Salt Lake City Stars), but they can spend up to 45 days with the Jazz.

They will make about $80,000 (prorated) for their G League time and about $900,000 (rookie minimum, also prorated) for their NBA time. The Jazz can make either contract into a standard NBA contract at any time, provided they have a free roster space. Should the pair finish their two-way deals, they would be eligible for qualifying offers and restricted free agency.

Brantley played four Summer League games — he was limited by a hamstring injury — averaging nine points (38 percent shooting) and five rebounds in 22 minutes. Wright-Foreman also played four games, averaging 12 points on 33 percent shooting, three rebounds, three assists, and two steals in 26 minutes per game.

But it was Devontae Cacok who shone brightest in Summer League. The 6-foot-7-inch, 240-pound dynamo averaged 23 minutes across eight contests, logging 12 points on 60 percent shooting, nine rebounds, and two steals a game for the Los Angeles Lakers. His Summer League coach and teammates have praised his defense, rebounding, energy, and toughness.

On July 9th, the Lakers signed Cacok to an Exhibit 10 contract, essentially a training camp invite with a bonus attached. It incentivizes Cacok to remain with the Lakers’ G League affiliate by paying him $5,000 to $50,000 if he is waived by the NBA club, signs with the G League team, and remains there for at least 30 days. The Lakers can also convert the deal into a two-way contract, allowing Cacok to transition between the NBA and G League clubs.

Just 100 days ago, these four athletes donned glitzy plastic sunglasses, gold-colored chains, and shot dollar bills from guns as they celebrated a win in a high-octane but mostly-for-fun tournament. Now they’ve all got real jobs, and how they develop and expand their skills will determine their longevity in an ever-changing sport.