It's a word that most coaches don't like to say out loud -- rebuilding -- when heading into a new season, but then South Carolina State men's basketball coach Tim Carter has always been a bit of a realist.
Gone from last year's 10-22 team are the Bulldogs' leading scorer Darnell Porter (12.4 ppg) and top rebounder Rio Pitt (5.4 rpg). It was the worst season in three years under Carter. "We're in a rebuilding mode right now," he said. "I have to be honest with myself and with the kids. This is a young team searching for an identity. I'd love to sit here say that we're going to compete for a conference title, but I'll be happy if we improve every game and compete as hard as we can each night we take the floor. Those are goals I know we can achieve."
Carter received even more bad news earlier this fall when the school learned that star recruit Keron Biggs, who was expected to compete for the starting point guard position this season, didn't meet NCAA academic requirements. "Keron was someone that was going to play a lot of minutes," Carter said. "We've got one point guard in the program now in Khalif Toombs and no one else really who has played the position. We were counting on Keron to come in and play for us right away."
The Bulldogs return three starters: Toombs, shooting guard Brandon Riley and power forward Omar Sanders. "We're going to lean heavily on those guys," Carter said.
The 6-2 Riley averaged 9.4 points and 2.5 rebounds last year, while Sanders and Toombs each averaged seven points.
"Brandon is a very good scorer, he just finds ways to put the ball in the basket," Carter said. "We need Omar to get a little stronger around the basket. He needs to finish when he gets into the paint. Khalif has been a rock for us the last couple of years, and he's going to be on the floor probably 35 minutes a game."
The Bulldogs welcome five new faces to the program. Junior college transfer Aaron Martin, a 6-5 small forward, and Luka Radovic, a 6-9 power forward, should help right away.
The two biggest issues for the Bulldogs will be rebounding and running their half-court offense, Carter said.
"If we can rebound the ball and run our offense, we're going to be OK," Carter said. "The kids are playing hard. They are excited about the season, and I think we've got better chemistry than we did a year ago. You can't coach chemistry; you've either got it or you don't, and I think we've got it."
Last season: 10-22, 5-11 (5th in MEAC).
Coach: Tim Carter, 58-70 in fourth season at S.C. State, 218-222 overall.
Players to Watch: G Brandon Riley, 6-2, Sr. (9.4 ppg, 2.5 rpg); F Omar Sanders, 6-8, Sr. (7.1 ppg., 4.9 rpg); PG Khalif Toombs, 5-9, Jr., (7.0 pg., 2.0 apg).
Notes: The Bulldogs must replace their leading scorer Darnell Porter (12.3 ppg., 28 steals) and their top rebounder Rio Pitt (5.4 rpg) from a year ago. Freshman Keron Biggs did not enroll at S.C. State this fall after not being cleared academically by the NCAA. ... JUCO transfer Aaron Martin (6-5, Jr.) is expected to help immediately.
South Carolina State Schedule
Nov. 11 Claflin 7:30 p.m.
Nov. 13 at Virginia 4 p.m.
Nov. 16 Webber 7:30 p.m.
Nov. 19 Gardner-Webb 7:30 p.m.
Nov. 22 at Baylor 7:30 p.m.
Nov. 26 at Kennesaw State 8 p.m.
Nov. 29 Georgia State 7:30 p.m.
Dec. 2 at Longwood 8 p.m.
Dec. 5 at Norfolk State 8 p.m.
Dec. 10 at Gardner-Webb 8 p.m.
Dec. 17 at Pittsburgh 8 p.m.
Dec. 21 at Oklahoma 8 p.m.
Dec. 29 at Hawaii-Manoa TBA
Jan. 3 South Carolina 8 p.m.
Jan. 7 Morgan State 4 p.m.
Jan. 9 Coppin State 7:30 p.m.
Jan. 14 at Bethune-Cookman 4:30 p.m.
Jan. 16 at Florida A&M 7:30 p.m.
Jan. 21 at Savannah State 4 p.m.
Jan. 24 at Hampton 8 p.m.
Jan. 30 Howard 7:30 p.m.
Feb. 4 Savannah State 4 p.m.
Feb. 6 Longwood 7:30 p.m.
Feb. 11 at North Carolina A&T 4 p.m.
Feb. 13 at N.C. Central 7;30 p.m.
Feb. 18 Bethune-Cookman 4 p.m.
Feb. 20 Florida A&M 7:30 p.m.
Feb. 25 North Carolina A&T 4 .m.
Feb. 27 N.C. Central 7:30 p.m.
March 1 at Delaware State 8 p.m.
March 6-10: MEAC tournament, Winston-Salem, N.C.