Compared to where Shawn Walker thought his Elizabeth City State men’s basketball team might be coming into tonight’s CIAA opener against Shaw, the Vikings are doing quite well, thank you.
ECSU has a 7-3 record and is coming off an impressive 107-87 win at Francis Marion.
“At the beginning of the year, I didn’t think there was any way we’d be 7-3, I’m encouraged,” Walker said.
Atlhough he felt there was talent on the team, Walker developed serious concerns during the preseason. A scrimmage loss to Brunswick Community College contributed to the negative vibe.
“We go over to Brunswick with a four-year team picked to finish second in our side of the league to play a team of freshmen and sophomores and we got beat down,” Walker said. “They beat us by 15. They scored 82 points. We were at their mercy.
“And that was a week before the first game.”
Defense and turnovers were the primary areas of concern.
But once the regular season rolled around, the Vikings seemed to figure things out quickly. After dropping a hard-fought 76-70 decision to Shepherd in the season opener, ECSU ripped off five straight wins. Even though the Vikings lost two of the next four, they were competitive losses to quality teams,
“The three games we lost we could have very well won,” Walker said. “We didn’t win them because we made too many mistakes. And those were the kinds of teams that make you pay for your mistakes. We know that three or four possessions is the difference between us being 10-0 and 7-3.”
When the preseason Vikings are compared to the conference-opening Vikings, there is no comparison, however.
“Everything is better,” Walker said. “We have a better identity, we have an understanding that Angelo Sharpless is going to carry us and we are going to throw him the ball.
“We have a better understanding of playing defense and guarding the ball and we have rebounded better than any team we’ve had since I’ve been here.”
Sharpless, the 6-4 senior swingman, is having a monster season. He is averaging 24.7 points, 9.7 rebounds and 2.3 assists a game. He is shooting 61 percent from the floor.
“He’s not just one of the best Division II players in the country, he is one of the best players in college basketball,” Walker said.
Sharpless is not the whole show, however. While no one else in the lineup scores in double figures, a half-dozen players are scoring at least six points a game.
Deon Rice (9.9), Glenn Patterson (7.8), Ade Barek (6.5), Quintin Spady (6.5), Domonique Byrd (6.4) and Myikael Faulcon (6.0) have provided dependable offense.
Barek, a 6-8 senior transfer who also averages 5.4 rebounds, may not be playing against Shaw. He is serving an indefinite suspension for unspecified disciplinary reasons.
But Walker is quick to point out that as much as Barek can bring to the team, ECSU is 3-0 in games they have played without him. Rice has replaced Barek in the lineup and Walker is just fine with the result.
“As long as we continue to defend and share the ball, we could be special,” he said.
Shaw (6-4) could give an indication of just how special the Vikings may be able to become. The Bears beat ECSU in overtime last year and have some strong players, including Karron Johnson (20.3 points, 9.1 rebounds), Curtis Hines (11.7 ppg) and Latrail McCoy (13.0 ppg).
“They will be extremely challenging,” Walker said. “Johnson is a pro prospect, Hines is a shooter-scorer and McCoy is a strong power point guy.
“They have played a really tough schedule, one that a lot of teams would go 0-10 against. They are going to be one of the top teams in the league.
“I’m looking forward to seeing where we are against them.”