The Charlotte 49ers have a lot of new faces taking the court this year. Head coach Mark Price did a great job in the offseason of addressing positional and team needs and so far, it’s showing on the court.
Through the first three games, there is already a difference in scoring outside of Jon Davis, a junior this year. Other players are stepping up, like sophomore forward Najee Garvin, who’s averaging 11.3 points per game this season. Garvin also scored a career-high 19 points against College of Charleston, where he led all Charlotte scorers.
Monday against Presbyterian, that continued. This time, a new face answered the call: Redshirt freshman Ryan Murphy. He scored a career-high 11 points on 4-7 shooting, including 3-5 from deep. Davis did score a season-high 24 points, though, helping Charlotte defeat the Blue Hose, 83-74.
Alongside Garvin, Milos Supica, a freshman from Serbia, is averaging 10.3 points per game. His most impressive outing thus far came in the season-opener against Methodist, where he poured in 18 points on a scorching 8-9 (89%) shooting percentage. The Niners also scored 116 points in that game, a Halton Arena record.
Charlotte also brought in another Serbian in Luka Vasic, who’s proven he can do a little bit of everything. The 6-8 guard was one of the top prospects out of Connecticut and is added height to a team that was relatively small last season. He’s second on the team in assists through three games and is also averaging four points per game along with three rebounds.
Last year, it seemed that all Charlotte was missing was a force inside. Price realized this and went out and got a JUCO transfer in 6-10, 260 lb center Jailan Haslem. Haslem’s film looks good, but his start to the season has been a little slow, only averaging 2.3 rebounds per game. Still, it is early and hopefully he can prove to be the big man the Niners need to push them over the hump.
To compliment Haslam, Charlotte signed a freshman out of South Mecklenburg HS, Bryant Thomas. Standing 6-9, the lanky forward adds some interior help on the defensive side. At South Meck, he averaged a double-double with 17.9 points and 10 rebounds. Even more impressive, he averaged 7.7 blocks per game which led the nation, according to MaxPreps.
The clear difference this year is that Charlotte is a lot deeper this year as opposed to last. The 49ers only had about six or seven players they could rely on last year to produce, but this year the bench is averaging roughly 30 points per game, led by Supica and redshirt senior Austin Ajukwa.
A returner from last season, Ajukwa is looking to build on an impressive junior campaign. As the season went on, Ajukwa became the second scoring option behind Davis and filled the role nicely, averaging 11.4 points per game. He kicked it up a notch during conference play, where he dropped a career-high 30 points against FIU last February.
Being a relatively young team, Charlotte has struggled a little bit with ball control through the first few games. Luckily, it’s a long season and the newcomers can look to leaders like senior forward Hudson Price, son of coach Price, for leadership. Hopefully these players can continue to build chemistry, find their role and produce at a high level throughout the season.
Following Monday’s win, Charlotte improves to 2-2. The 49ers will play host to High Point University on Friday, Nov. 24 at 7 p.m.