The Charlotte 49ers will enter into the 2018-19 season on Nov. 6 as a new regime is setting the stage in Niner Nation. With a brand new head coach and a brand new coaching staff put in place, the Charlotte men’s basketball team will have the opportunity to help redefine what exactly it means to be a “49er.”
Coming off of a 6-23 season with only two conference wins to call their own, the men of Niner Nation have something to prove, not only to the rest of Conference-USA, but to the rest of the college basketball world. After a rocky 3-6 start to the 2017-18 season, the firing of Head Coach Mark Price threw much of Niner Nation into a state of surprise and confusion. Interim Head Coach Houston Fancher, who had been with the 49ers basketball program for three seasons, stepped up and took the reins of the program, but would only be able to pump out three more wins over the remainder of the season. With the retiring of the 43-year athletic director, Judy Rose, and the introduction of the new director, Mike Hill, it was suspected, but never said out loud, that the change in leadership would have dramatic ramifications for the coaching staff.
Speculation turned into reality in the spring when Mike Hill announced his first major decision as athletic director, the hiring of former UVA assistant basketball coach, Ron Sanchez. Sanchez, now at the helm of the program, has the chance to make his word law and bring a winning culture back to the stands of Dale F. Halton Arena.
The announcement of A.D Hill and new Head Coach Sanchez were not the only major changes to occur in the 49ers offseason. Junior wingman Andrien White, who averaged 15 points, 4 rebounds and averaged 27 minutes per game this past season, announced his commitment to the Wake Forest “Demon Deacons.” White, who along with Jon Davis was a staple in the 49ers backcourt, announced his decision via Instagram this past summer.
White averaged 12 points, 4 rebounds and shot 37 percent from the field for the entirety of his career at Niner nation and tallied eleven 20 point games and 17 games that finished in the double digits. His freshman year, White was named Conference USA player of the week twice and finished fourth in Conference USA in steals. The athletic wing, along with senior point guard, Jon Davis, proved to be one of the strongest one-two punches in C-USA basketball. His departure will leave a hole that will prove to be an endeavor to fill.
Charlotte’s backcourt took another hit this offseason apart from the departure of White. Ryan Murphy, a 6-foot-2-inch redshirt freshman from Calabasas, California, decided to re-open his recruitment. Murphy offered strong minutes off the bench for the 49ers early on in the season, putting up double-digit numbers to offer some reprieve to scoring-minded players like White, Austin Ajukwa and forward Najee Garvin.
It would be during a game against ODU that Murphy would finally find his comfort zone, exploding against the Blue Raiders for 27 points, knocking down six threes while going 100 percent from the line. Over the next five games, Murphy would seem to have found his niche. Four of the games would end with Murphy in double digits, but unfortunately, an injury would cut the redshirt freshman’s season short. On May 8, Murphy announced on Twitter that he intended to re-open his recruitment and had planned to play his sophomore season apart from the 49ers.
On Sept. 29, Murphy announced on Instagram that he had committed to the Washington State Cougars. Ryan averaged six points, four rebounds, and shot 40 percent from the three-point line in his one year playing for the 49ers.
Garvin, a 6-foot-7-inch forward from Lexington, South Carolina will also not be suiting up this year. He averaged six points and four rebounds in the two years he played for the 49ers. Both Garvin and Bryant Thomas were dismissed from the team this year for not having met team expectations.
Returning for the 49ers this season is star senior point guard, Davis. Walking into his fourth and final season averaging 17 points per game, five assists and three rebounds, Davis is already riding a wave of momentum. Davis was recently named to the Preseason All-Conference C-USA team, which was voted on by 14 different league coaches. In his three seasons as a 49er he has accumulated a plethora of accolades and titles ranging from being the 27th player in school history to hit 1000 points to having the second highest scoring game ever (37 points) played in Halton Arena. Jon has accumulated multiple conference USA honors and titles and made even more “big time” plays in Halton while also playing at a level of consistency and intensity that has set the bar for this teammates. Davis finished sixth in scoring in the 2017-18 season while also averaging 20 points in C-USA play alone, putting him at No. 3 on the list of C-USA scoring averages for the 2017-18 season. When asked, in view of all his accolades, what is a goal of his that he wants to accomplished, this is what he had to say:
“First of all, my goal is to win games. Because everything listed is individual statistics, and to be honest those don’t mean anything,” said Davis. “Especially without the wins that come behind it. So I really want to dedicate this year to getting wins under my belt.”
This past offseason, Davis entered his name into the NBA draft, but decided to return for his fourth and final year as a Charlotte 49er.
Also returning for the 49ers this coming season is 6-foot-10 inch senior center Jailan Haslem. Haslem, who transferred in from Gordon State College at the beginning of last season, has averaged four points, four rebounds and played 505 minutes in his first season. Putting up only two double figure games for the entire season along with four games with double digit boards, Haslem, off of sheer size alone, is a presence in the paint that cannot be ignored.
Sophomore forward Milos Supica is another piece for the 49ers who will make his second-year debut Nov. 6. A face-up four with the ability to get to the rim, Supica offered strong minutes off the bench this past season. Averaging six points and four rebounds along with eleven blocks for the season, the forward offered a versatile scoring option for the 49ers frontcourt apart from Garvin. Supica touched the court in 28 games last season, collecting seven starts along with six games finishing in the double digits.
6-foot-8-inch stretch wing, Luka Vasic, is yet another returning weapon for Coach Sanchez to have in his arsenal. Shooting 40 percent from behind the arc this past season, the sophomore will add depth to the 49er backcourt and will offer another ball handler on the scene to assist Davis.
Despite the departure and return of many old faces for the 49ers, there are a few new kids on the block in Niner Nation. Junior transfer Jordan Shepherd is a 6-foot-4-inch guard transferring out of Oklahoma University. At OU, Shepherd saw the floor 59 times, while collecting only four starts in his two-year career. Averaging four points his freshman year, and 3.2 his sophomore year, Shepherd will be another option for the 49ers extensive backcourt.
True freshman Tyler Bertram is a 6-foot-3-inch shooting guard out of Cooperstown, NY. Bertram spent his senior year play at Vermont Academy, where the young man averaged 20 points per game and was named MVP for the “Hoophall classic” where he dropped 31 against IMG Academy. At Cooperstown High, Bertram racked up a school record of 1,867 points while also setting a school record in threes with 264. Averaging 30 points per game with Cooperstown, the shooting guard led the school to multiple Section 3 titles and received First Team All-state honors. Bertram is also a well-versed tennis player.
Freshman big man, Dravon Mangum, is another huge piece for the 49ers. Standing at 6-foot-9-inch, Mangum will offer length and rim protection for a 49er team, which is extremely guard-heavy. Mangum, averaging 17 points, eight rebounds and two assists at Person High school, earned All-PAC-6 Conference honors multiple times and was named First Team All-District. The forward’s wing span alone will offer versatility to the 49ers shift to a defensive mindset.
“We’re trying to establish something new, a new identity for our team,” said Sanchez. “A defensive mindset that I believe the students will appreciate, and if we can get the students behind us, get them to be loud, and kind of build the Halton Arena of old…I think we could be a really exciting team to come and watch.”
The Charlotte 49ers, without doubt, will see a period of adjustment as they learn to work together as a unit under this new coaching staff. With accountability, integrity, consistency and everything else that embodies the ideals of a “Noble Niner,” Sanchez will be able to successfully reshape this program in his image and lead these young men to an appearance in the postseason that could set the standards for years to come.
The 49ers will open their season Tuesday, Nov. 6 against Chattanooga in Dale F. Halton Arena at 7 p.m.