Wallace State’s men’s basketball opens 2016-17 season today with reloaded roster

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Members of the team are front row, from left, Jarrett Thompson, Jaylen McCoy, Rashawn Green, Rhysante Ellis, Keoni Wallington, Desmian Devane, Jalen Glover, Zach Allison and Josh Hill, back row, from left, Gage Goodwin, Keenan Jordan, Sterling Carrington, LaParis Hall, Hunter Davis, Neal Hodges and Xavier Malcom.

HANCEVILLE – Wallace State’s men’s basketball team opens the 2016-17 season today in Tennessee with a new-look roster and the same championship aspirations.

Only two players return from last season’s 26-6 team that finished as the Alabama Community College Conference (ACCC) regular season championship for the second time in three seasons and earned the No. 1 seed in the league tournament.

“We’re a different team. We’ve got 12 new guys. We tried to address each position in the offseason and ensure that we had two guys at each spot who we believe are capable players,” said Wallace State coach John Meeks, who’s entering his seventh season at Wallace State. “It’s going to be interesting to see which players step up and become consistent leaders for us. A lot of things are up for grabs. I believe this team has the ability to score. Our championship hopes will be predicated upon what their level of focus is on the defensive side.”

Jaylen McCoy and LaParis Hall are the lone returners for the Lions this season. Of the 2,225 points Wallace State poured in last season, McCoy and Hall combined for 267 points. The Lions lost their top five leading scorers from last season.

Nonetheless, Meeks believes McCoy and a slew of sophomore transfers are ready to take over the reins of the team.

McCoy, a 5-foot-11 guard from St. James School in Montgomery, averaged seven points per game as a freshman and was second on the team with 44 3-pointers made. He also dished out 52 assists.

“We are going to rely on Jaylen a lot. We have high expectations for Jaylen, and he has very high expectations for himself. He’s had as good or better of a preseason as I ever can remember a player having. He’s been very focused on strengthening his weaknesses and worked on his game a lot,” Meeks said. “He’s going to have to come out every night and play well to keep us in games.”

Among the sophomore transfers is former Pelham guard Zach Allison, who joins the Lions after playing in 10 games for Bruce Pearl at Auburn last season. Allison, a 6-foot-3 guard, was a Class 6A honorable mention all-state selection his senior season at Pelham, where he became the first person in school history to eclipse the 1,000-point mark.

“I feel good about what Zach Allison has done in the preseason. He had practice and game experience at Auburn, and we expect that to carry over and be a plus for us,” said Meeks, whose team is picked to finish third in the ACCC.

Jalen Glover and Keoni Wallington hooked at Wallace State as two transfers from Eastern Florida State College, following in the footsteps of former WSCC guard Marcus Barham, who was an All-ACCC/Region 22 second-team selection last season after averaging a team-high 11.9 points and draining a team-high 69 3-pointers.

Rashawn Green transferred from Alabama A&M after playing in 19 games for the Bulldogs last season. Green, a 6-foot-3 guard, played at Sparkman High School.

Forward Neal Hodges rounds out the sophomore transfers. Hodges played at Dakota College in North Dakota last season.

“All of those guys have to step up and play well for us this season,” Meeks said. “I want to see who has the strong voice or who leads once we get into pressure situations.”

Josh Hill, Rhysante Ellis and Sterling Carrington are among the freshman expected to contribute significantly.

Hill, a 6-foot-5 forward, was a Class 5A all-state second-team selection at Faith Academy last season, while Ellis averaged 29.3 points per game at New Bern High School in North Carolina. Carrington, a 6-foot-7 forward, starred at Green Run High in Virginia Beach, Va.

Rounding out the freshman class are Desmian Devane (Oscar Smith High in Virginia), Hunter Davis (Estero, Florida), Jarrett Thompson (St. John Paul II) and Keenan Jordan (Russell County High in Kentucky).

“Our freshman class is a good one. Because of the newness of this group and the lack of experience and returners, those guys are going to play a bigger role than they might on other teams here in the past,” Meeks said.

Hanceville’s Xavier Malcom and Cullman’s Gage Goodwin are redshirting this season for the Lions.

“This team has potential on both ends of the court. I’m ready to see what they can do. The buy-in process is going to take some time because we have so many new faces. You have to be patient and understand we may take some lumps at the beginning of the season,” Meeks said. “We want to develop team chemistry and bonds along the way, so we are prepared when the calendar turns to conference play.”

Meeks has led Wallace State to a pair of ACCC tournament titles and NJCAA Division I tournament appearances in his previous six seasons. He has a career 123-73 record at Wallace State, advancing to the postseason five consecutive seasons.

Wallace State plays a pair of games in Tennessee this weekend before its home opener on Tuesday vs. Cleveland State.

For more information about Wallace State athletics, visit http://athletics.wallacestate.edu/.