Freshman Chealey vying for starting spot with Cougars

College of Charleston freshman guard Joe Chealey (left) during Cougars practice. (photo provided).

There was no question at the start of preseason practice that College of Charleston freshman guard Joe Chealey was brought in to eventually replace former team captain Andrew Lawrence.

Eventually has arrived already for Chealey.

While College of Charleston coach Doug Wojcik has yet to determine who will be in the Cougars’ starting backcourt, after two weeks of practice, he’s convinced that Chealey will be in the rotation when Charleston tips off its season next month against Louisville.

Replacing Lawrence, who led the team in scoring (13.5 ppg.) and assists (122) a year ago, will be no easy task for anyone in a Cougars uniform this season, let alone a true freshman that has never played in a college game. Lawrence did more than just score for the Cougars. His shooting range forced defenses to step out and guard him on the perimeter, which created space for the other players on the floor.

Chealey might not be as much of a threat offensively, but his maturity, grasp of the Cougars’ system and his tenacious defense have already caught Wojcik’s eye.

Wojcik hoped that Chealey would have an impact this season, but he didn’t think it would be this much, this soon.

“Everyone knows that Joe was coming in to replace Andrew Lawrence,” Wojcik said. “That doesn’t mean that he’s going to be advanced enough, mature enough or he’s going to study enough to be able to do that. You hope he can, but you never really know until you get them on campus.

“So far, Joe has shown an unbelievable aptitude and seriousness and competitiveness about the whole process that is unlike the majority of freshmen across the country.”

The transition from high school to college has been almost seamless for the Apopka, Fla., native.

“He picks things up so quickly for a freshman,” Wojcik said. “He really understands the game and what we’re trying to do, and he does that with great athleticism, quickness and speed with the ball. He has an innate ability to see what’s happening on the floor at any given moment. Now, he’s going to make mistakes because he’s inexperienced, but he’s got a chance to have an immediate impact this season.”

In what role remains to be seen. Chealey is expected to see playing time at both the point guard and shooting guard positions.

Will Chealey start?

In nine years as a head coach, Wojcik has started just three true freshmen.

“I’m not sure what I’m going to do yet,” Wojcik said. “There’s still almost a month left before the Louisville game, but Joe’s definitely in that mold of those other guys that started for me as freshmen. His maturity level is what separates him from a lot of freshmen. A lot of freshmen have the athletic ability to play early, but they are not ready to run a team. I believe Joe is ready for that.”

The Cougars have the luxury of bringing Chealey along slowly. Junior Anthony Stitt can play both the shooting and point guard positions. With veteran Nori Johnson, the team’s top shooter, and Canyon Barry on the roster, the Cougars are four deep in the backcourt.

“It doesn’t matter to me if I start or come off the bench, it really doesn’t matter,” Chealey said. “Whatever I can do to help this team win I’m going to do.”