Wiley Wildcats face Tougaloo College on the court tonight
By W. Alan Wiederhold Wiley Sports Information
Oct. 31, 2012 at 10 p.m.
Andre Payne is no stranger to success, and entering his seventh season as the head coach of the Wiley College men's basketball team, he has the campus community accustomed to success as well.
Since leading the Wildcats to the Red River Athletic Conference championship and the NAIA tournament in his first season in Marshall in 2007, Payne's teams have averaged 17 wins and qualified for the conference tournament every year of his tenure. After a fourth-place finish among 13 teams in 2011-12, the Wildcats are poised to repeat their success this season.
The Wildcats won't have much time to get acquainted with each other, as they welcome highly-touted Tougaloo College to Alumni Gymnasium for a 7:30 p.m. tip tonight to open the season. The visiting Bulldogs, who opened their season last night at Texas College, received votes in the preseason NAIA poll and are a perennial contender in the Gulf Coast Athletic Conference.
"They have some quality players and are well-coached," Payne said of Tougaloo College. Longtime Mississippi Valley State head coach Lafayette Stribling stepped down from the helm after seven seasons at Tougaloo, but Payne expects this to have absolutely no effect on their opponent.
After a short break, the Wildcats return to action on Saturday, when they host Huston-Tillotson for a 4 p.m. tip as part of Wiley College's homecoming doubleheader. The Rams are coming off a one-win season, but Payne says you can never overlook a rivalry game, especially in a packed house.
The RRAC preseason poll has Wiley College picked fifth behind defending champion Our Lady of the Lake, Texas Wesleyan, Southwestern Assemblies of God and LSU-Shreveport. The Wildcats, with a solid core of returners and several experienced transfers, have their sights set even higher.
"We have an older ball club with only two freshmen and several transfers," Payne said. "I believe we are a good enough team to compete for one of the top three or four spots in the conference this season."
Though they graduated their top three scorers from the 2011-12 season, Payne feels he can rely on a core group of returners to provide leadership early in the season.
"We are expecting big things from seniors Dominic Jones and Karlos Gary, as well as (junior returner) Joshua Wesley," Payne said.
Jones (Houston/ Houston CC), a 6-foot-4-inch forward, was Wiley's leading scorer among the Wildcats' returners. Jones averaged 8.1 points per game and shot 50 percent from the floor. Wesley (Houston/ San Jacinto College) averaged 1.3 points and 2.1 rebounds per game last season. The 6-foot-7 forward averaged six and a half minutes per game and saw action in 20 contests.
Gary (Sicily Island, La. / McLennan CC) leads Wiley's backcourt. The 5-foot-11 guard averaged 4.8 points per game during the season last year.
Never one to shy away from junior college and four-year college transfers, Payne knows it might take his team longer to gel as a unit with only five returning players.
"We have a lot of players who are new to our system," Payne said. "It might take a month before we are finally clicking on all cylinders."
This said, Payne and assistant coaches Jameus Hartsfield and Michael Vickerstaff welcome a talented group of transfers to the Wiley College campus this season. Among those expected to make immediate impacts are senior transfers Victor Leak and Erik Hunter (both from Missouri Baptist) and Tayler Jacobs, who transferred from Wayland Baptist in Plainview.
Leak, a 6-foot-8 forward, and Hunter, a 6-foot-3 guard both opted to move closer to home, as both players graduated from Flower Mound schools in the Metroplex. Hunter averaged 8.7 points and shot 39 percent from 3-point range for an 18-14 Missouri Baptist squad last season. Leak averaged 4.8 points per game and saw action in 16 contests.
Meanwhile, Jacobs, a 6-foot-2 guard from Cedar Hill, provides an immediate scoring option for the Wildcats after leading Wayland Baptist last season by averaging 13.1 points per game.
The blend of transfers and returners suiting up for the Wildcats gives the coaching staff reason for optimism. The question remains as to how quickly they will gel. "We certainly have the talent," Payne said. "It's still a matter of piecing it together."
The preseason schedule also includes several other marquee games against GCAC opponents.
"We have a schedule which can definitely be beneficial to us," Payne said. "We have quality NAIA opponents who will help us by the time we reach the bulk of our conference games."