Few would disagree with anyone who said that first-year head coach Scott Padgett inherited a nightmare when he assumed the head coaching post at Samford after the departure of Bennie Seltzer. After all, the Bulldogs nearly lost half a recruiting class in the process, including losing one of the conference's top scorers, in Tim Williams, who transferred to New Mexico.
Padgett certainly has the pedigree to get this program back on the right track and make a run in the SoCon, but it likely won't be done overnight. Padgett was a standout post player for the University of Kentucky. After his playing career in college, Padgett also spent eight seasons in the NBA with four different teams, finishing out his career in 2006, with the Memphis Grizzlies.
He was a member of the 1996 and ‘98 national title teams, and after being named head coach, the style of basketball played under the likes of Seltzer and his predecessor Jimmy Tillette changed dramatically. It went from a Princeton style offense employed by Tillette to a high-octane style of pressing and transition, which was so popular during his days as a Wildcat player, especially under Pitino.Now, that high-octane style, known as "Talladega" for its race-track speed mentality, mixing in a little local flavor, enters year two.
Padgett has seen even a little more fallout after winning 13 games in his first season, as guard Evan Taylor (6.4 PPG, 3.3 RPG, 1.2 APG, 1.1 SPG) has also moved on, and with only two starters back, it's hard to think the Bulldogs will be much of a factor in this season's Southern Conference basketball race.
Adding even more concern were the departures of three other significant pieces off the bench in the backcourt for the Bulldogs, as Brandon Roberts (6.2 PPG, 1.2 RPG, 1.0 APG), Brandon Hayman (1.8 PPG, 1.6 RPG) and Nnamdi Enechioyona (4.3 PPG,1.7 RPG) have also departed, leaving the Bulldogs thin in terms of experienced depth in the backcourt.
However, Padgett's Bulldogs are more than what they appear to be on paper--two returning starters--albeit two of the better guards in the league--in Darius Jones-Gibson (12.2 PPG, 3.1 RPG, 2.2 APG) and Christen Cunningham (10.1 PPG, 3.9 APG, 1.2 SPG).
The duo of guards were tough for anyone to stop a year ago, but the concern entering the season won't be the backcourt. The Bulldogs have much to do in the frontcourt if they are going to be a factor in the SoCon race this season, and much of the off-season was dedicated to making sure the Bulldogs adequately addressed those needs, which was to bring in quality, highly-productive post players.
Gone are the likes of Tyler Hood (10.9 PPG, 3.4 RPG) and Michael Bradley (6.7 PPG, 5.4 RPG), who were excellent compliments to one another underneath the basket, as both have now graduated. Hood was a consistent starter and one of the best perimeter shooters in the SoCon last season, knocking down 39.9% of his triple attempts last season, which ranked Hood fifth in the SoCon in three-point field goal percentage last season.
Padgett will introduce seven newcomers into the fold for the coming season, including four of which will ply their trade underneath the basket. One of those players looking to make an instant impact this season underneath this season wil be Maryland-Eastern Shore transfer Iman Johnson, who is one of three transfers, however, the other two must sit out this season due to NCAA Transfer requirements.
Johnson, a 6-5, 215-lb senior will give the Bulldogs a powerful, athletic presence in the paint this season. It will be an added dimension the Bulldogs lacked under Seltzer or Tillette, which is versatility and athleticism rolled into one players. Johnson is eligible because he only participated in five games for Eastern Shore last season before he received a redshirt from the NCAA.
Prior to ending up at UMES, Johnson played at both Tiffin and East Oklahoma State before making his way to Division I. At Eastern Oklahoma State, Johnson averaged an impressive 7.6 RPG.
Johnson will have some adequate help under the basket this season for the Bulldogs, as he will be joined underneath by impressive newcomers, in a pair of 6-9 posts with big potential, in Wyatt Walker out of Jacksonville, FL, and Dakota Quinn out of Nashvilee, Tenn.
Walker comes to Samford from the Providence School in Jacksonville, where he finished his prep career as a winner--literally--as he lost only 10 games (138-10) in his high school career. Wyatt was more than impressive during his prep career, and is one of the top signees by Padgett in the latest signing class. He was named the 2015 Prep Hoops Florida Class 3A Player of The Year, and finished his high school career with 1,408 points, 1,015 rebounds, 316 assists, 113 blocks and 85 steals.
Quinn is another strong acquisition for Padgett underneath the basket, and averaged 18 points and 14 boards during his final season at Davidson Academy in the Music City. He shot a blistering 63% from the field from the field as a senior, and was a two-sport athlete, as he also served as the football team's starting quarterback.
Padgett went back to his college hometown to pick up 6-7 Matt Rose. Rose comes to the Magic City after serving a stellar prep career at Lexington Christian Academy, where he averaged 22.1 PPG and 8.6 RPG, as well as being a finalist for Kentucky's prestigious "Mr. Basketball." Obviously in a state like the Bluegrass state, being a finalist for such an award says enough in and of itself. Rose finished his career as his program's all-time leading scorer (1,506 pts) and all-time leading rebounder (654 rebs).
Aside from the newcomers, 6-7 redshirt sophomore Eric Adams out of Hoover, AL, 6-6 senior Jamal Shabazz (4.4 PPG, 3.4 RPG) and 6-8 sophomore Alex Peters (1.1 PPG, 1.3 RPG) are all back to lend support under the basket. Shabazz is one of the best returning contributors, as he saw action in 26 Samford's 32 games in his first season at the program after transferring in from junior college. The Bulldogs will also be given added reinforcements with the additions of 6-8 Auburn transfer forward Alex Thompson, while 6-5 UMass guard Demetrius Dyson will add support in the backcourt.
The backcourt is quite a different story for the Bulldogs, with a good mix of veteran leadership and talented newcomers set to mix in to the Samford fold this season.
Cunningham burst onto the scene as one of the top newcomers in the SoCon last season, and as Cunningham continued to grow into his role as the team's leader, the Bulldogs started to hit their stride early in SoCon play, winning six-straight at one point during league play, and even put themselves in a good position to qualify for one of the six opening round byes in the league tournament at one point.
The 6-2 guard from Georgetown, KY, was a SoCon All-Freshman candidate last season, and was a candidate for league Freshman of the Year honors. Cunningham started all 32 games for the Bulldogs, posting 125 assists, shot 43.1% from the field and 79.1% from the charity stripe, along with averaging just over double figures per game, at 10.3 PPG. In the final game of the regular-season against VMI, Cunningham scored a career-high 22 points. He was named SoCon Freshman of the Week five times last season.
Joining him in the backcourt this season will be Darius Jones-Gibson, who comes into senior season off of what was a stellar 2014-15 campaign, which saw him garner Third-Team All-SoCon honors. He is the team's leading returning scorer, coming off a campaign which saw him average 12.2 PPG, including a career best performance in a late-January game against Chattanooga, posting 24 points.
One of the potential problems was perimeter shooting from Jones-Gibson and Cunningham, who were just a combined 16-of-63 from three-point range on the season.
Senior point guard Marcus Johnson (6.1 PPG, 2.0 RPG) and saw action in all 32 games as a reserve last season for Samford. Redshirt freshman Gerald Smith, who was a dynamic scorer as a prep, at 23.1 PPG, returns and one of the brightest young talents to be introduced to the fold is Brentwood, Tenn product Tanner Tapp, where he served as a key cog in Brentwood High School's 32-3 season and state semifinal appearance. The future is once again bright for Samford basketball, and success is just around the bend.