LYNCHBURG, Va.- For the Randolph men's basketball team, the 2016-17 season was an adjustment period. With head coach Pete Hamilton '11 now entering his second season at the helm, the WildCats believe they can be a contender in the ultra-competitive Old Dominion Athletic Conference.
The 'Cats return all five of their starters from last year led by senior Ryan Fields (Edgewood, Md./Loyola Blakefield). Fields was an All-Conference selection and led the team with 16.8 points per game. Fellow senior Reid Jacoby (Richmond, Va./Benedictine) also returns and dished out a conference-high 150 assists. He was second on the team in scoring with 13.2 points per contest. Hamilton called Fields "tough to guard one-on-one" and Jacoby "one of the toughest point guards in the league that helped us tick."
Junior Nick Goble (Charlotte, N.C./Myers Park) was second on the team in rebounds with 161 while also blocking 30 shots and will have a strong defensive presence. Sophomore Brian Smith (Dumfries, Va./C.D. Hylton) started 25 of 26 games a year ago as a first year player and Hamilton says he has developed to "do more than just defend and catch and shoot." Senior Andy Toe (Manassas, Va./Stonewall Jackson) will look to build on a solid junior campaign.
Senior Keion Robinson (Fredericksburg, Va./Fredericksburg Christian) is healthy and looks to make significant contributions after only playing in nine games last season. Sophomore Chase Van Horn (Forest, Va./Jefferson Forest) was one of five players to play in every game in 2016-17. Fellow sophomore Colton Lee (Raleigh, N.C./North Raleigh Christian) started two of the 24 games he played in averaging 6.4 points per game and led the WildCats with a 42% three-point shooting percentage. Junior Drew Hayden (Vinton, Va./William Byrd) started seven of the 22 games he saw on the court and averaged 5.3 points and 3.5 rebounds. Sophomore Brandon Schlick (Virginia Beach, Va./Greenbrier Christian Acad.) rounds out the returning players.
Depth was noted by Coach Hamilton as an improvement this year. With that added depth, Hamilton believes his team has gotten better at positions. "We want guys that want to help move the needle forward. All our new guys help us do that." Incoming first-year players looking to have an impact are Justin Dula (Taylorsville, N.C./Alexander Central), Elijah Ford (Chantilly, Va./Chantilly), Ben Lochen (Asheville, N.C./Carolina Day School), CJ Loving (Madison Heights, Va./Amherst County), AJ Marshall (Lake Mary, Fla./Lake Mary Prep), and Avery Payne (Charlotte, N.C./East Mecklenburg). Two transfers join the team this year in junior Sammy Hooper (Richmond, Va./Midlothian) and sophomore Zach Hinton (Manassas, Va./Stonewall Jackson).
The WildCats will face some formidable challenges early in the season. On the team's non-conference schedule are two teams that qualified for the NCAA Tournament last year in preseason ranked #23 Cabrini and Denison with Randolph facing one of those teams at Mary Washington's Hyatt Place Tipoff Tournament on November 19. Maryville (Tenn.) was a 20-game winner last season and Randolph travels there on December 2.
The non-conference slate concludes at the end of December as the WildCats travel up to Pennsylvania to play Franklin and Marshall, who won 18 games last year, at the Spounagle Tournament on December 29 and 30. The Cats then go against either Delaware Valley from the MAC or Hartwick from the Empire 8 which were both 16-game winners.
In the ODAC portion, highlights include the Whiteout Game against Roanoke on December 6 and a date with defending conference champion and preseason #18 Guilford on January 10. The annual crosstown clash with Lynchburg is January 31 with Alumni Day slated for February 3 against Bridgewater.
"It's definitely going to be a challenge," noted Hamilton. "There are not going to be any easy nights. I think that we will leave non-conference play having seen where we need to get better and who can step up in tough situations. A lot of guys will get a lot of opportunities during that time so that conference play will not be brand new."
Hamilton says that while there are some things still unaccomplished like winning the ODAC Championship, there are still smaller goals to achieve with how long the journey is. With the WildCats predicted to finish 10th in the conference, he says his team does not want to end there. Hamilton noted that if his team plays to what it can be over a 25-game season, that the outcomes it desires will be in its favor.