It’s rare for a community college basketball team to have seven returning sophomores.
That’s one of the luxuries Wallace State’s men can lean upon during the 2018-2019 season, which begins tonight for the Lions against Combine Academy-Charlotte in Morristown, Tenn.
Wallace State, which was selected to finish third in the Alabama Community College Conference (ACCC) by league coaches, returns three of its top four scorers from last season and four players who logged 17 or more starts during a 15-15 campaign.
“This is the most experience I’ve had returning between here and at my previous coaching stop. These sophomores are handling the expectations well and have done a good job of not isolating themselves from freshmen, which can happen at times,” said Wallace State men’s coach John Meeks, who’s entering his ninth season with the Lions. “Because of our experience, I truly think we have a chance to make some noise in the end, but there’s obviously a lot of things that can happen between now and January and between January and March. A lot of it will be determined by how much our sophomores want to get the bitter taste out of their mouth from last season and how quickly the freshmen progress.”
Demarkus Lampley highlights Wallace State’s returning class. Lampley, a sophomore from Phenix City, was the team’s leading scorer last season, pouring in 18.3 points per game. His first game wasn’t until Dec. 29 of last season, yet Lampley posted double figures in 13 of 15 games played, including scoring a career-high 32 vs. Marion Military Institute last February.
Chris Rollins and Jalen Hodges return at forward after each provided steady minutes in the post last season. Rollins, a Hale County High grad, was third in both points scored and rebounds for Wallace State, averaging 9.8 points and five rebounds per game before a season-ending injury. Hodges added 7.8 points and 4.1 rebounds. Hodges is from Duluth, Ga.
Geordan Walker, a 6-foot-8 forward from Durham, N.C., will also provide a strong sophomore presence in the post after battling injuries last season.
Wallace State’s backcourt has Max Clark, Mike Johnson and Jerry Lwamba all returning to the fold. Clark led the Lions with 142 assists last season, while Johnson was among the team’s top 3-point shooters. Lwamba, originally from the Congo, provides depth as well and is one of the team’s captains this season.
Meeks hopes his sophomores play with an extra edge this season after the group suffered a handful of close conference losses last season, including losing four league games by five points or less.
“These guys are a tight-knit group and are ready to taste success. They battled together as freshmen and are excited to do so as sophomores. We had the wind taken out of our sails in many close games last season, and the challenge is to step up and win those games this year. Everyone can play when you’re up 25 points and everything is clicking. What about those tight games on the road where you have no fans in attendance and you feel the entire gym is against you? Can you step up and win those games? That’s where we’ve got to dig deeper this season,” Meeks said.
Wallace State’s freshman class appears to be just as talented.
Oxford’s Markise Davis, a third-team All-State selection in high school, and Zion Williams, a 6-foot-5 point guard from Maybrook, N.Y., are among the players Meeks expects to make a big impact in addition to Deshawn Ridley, a 6-foot-7 forward from Virginia.
“Markise Davis does so many things well. He’s long, athletic and can really shoot. He’s a good player and person who wants to get better. Zion Williams plays like a returning starter and culturally does the same things that returners do. He quickly picks up on things and puts in extra work in the gym,” Meeks said. ”We’re going to need all of our freshmen at some point and all are capable of playing big roles. Everyone is going to have to step up and embrace their role in order for us to win.”
Holly Pond’s Griffin Morris is among Wallace State’s freshmen after a stellar high school career. Rounding out the freshman class are Joshua Scott (Lithonia, Ga.), Lorenzo Gatling (Chesapeake, Va.), Christopher Sampson (Jeanette, Pa.), Kendall Cotner (East Lawrence HS), Dylan Finch (Cullman HS), Nick Howard (Clay-Chalkville), Latrell Tate (Marietta, Ga.) and Zion Fluellen (Lawrenceville, Ga.).
Wallace State’s home opener is Nov. 17 after a five-game road trip to begin the season.
The Lions’ ACCC opener is Jan. 8 at Gadsden State.
Meeks has led Wallace State to the postseason six times, compiling a 151-105 record with the Lions among two conference titles and two NJCAA national tournament appearances. Meeks was the 2014 ACCC Coach of the Year and the 2015 ACCC co-North Division Coach of the Year.
Assistants Collin Dimitroff and Andree Thomas join the Wallace State coaching staff for the first time.
Tyler Franks is the student assistant and Seirah Seow, Hayley Patterson and William Noel are managers.
For more information about Wallace State athletics, visit www.athletics.wallacestate.edu or the athletics Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/Wallace-State-Community-College-Athletics-238544719506181/
Wallace State’s 2018-2019 men’s basketball team begins the season tonight. Pictured are, front row, from left, Lorenzo Gatling, Max Clark, Demarkus Lampley, Latrell Tate, Griffin Morris, Jerry Lwamba and Mike Johnson; back row, from left, Nick Howard, Zion Williams, Chris Rollins, Christopher Samson, Josh Scott, Zion Fluellen, Kendall Cotner, Markise Davis, Deshawn Ridley, Geordan Walker, Jalen Hodges and Dylan Finch.
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