GREENVILLE, S.C.-- May 7 was more than just graduation day for the Furman men's basketball program. It was also a passing of the torch.
For a trio of Paladin seniors, Kendrec Ferrara, Larry Wideman and 2016 Southern Conference Player of the Year Stephen Croone, it was bittersweet -- a combination of pride for their accomplishments and sadness that the program would have to march on without them.
Over the last two seasons, the Paladins emerged as a real player in the Southern Conference, and it was due in large part to that trio in particular.
But while losing those three won't be easy, the Paladin coaching staff will bring in some of the league's best young talent for the upcoming season.
To start, there's Jordan Lyons (G, 5'11, Peachtree, GA.)
Lyons is the type of dynamic player that could be a significant contributor for Niko Medved's club from the outset. Lyons' quickness, scoring ability and perimeter shooting are something the Paladins haven't had in an incoming freshman since Eric Webb showed up as Minnesota's Mr. Basketball in 2002.
It's possible that Lyons could be even better, particularly from the perimeter.
Lyons helped lead McIntosh HS to a perfect 27-0 record and a 4-AAAAA State title during his junior season and was named region 4-AAAAA Player of the Year as a junior, averaging 24.7 ppg. As a senior, Lyons led McIntosh to another impressive season, as the Chiefs completed the campaign with a 29-3 overall record. He finished the season averaging 19.3 PPG, 2.5 RPG and 2.4 APG as a senior.
Furman Associate Head Coach Bob Richey On Jordan Lyons:
Two things really stand out when talking about Jordan Lyons: he can make shots with range and he impacts winning. The 3pt line has become such a huge part of the game and finding guys that can make shots from deep at a high percentage is very important. Jordan was one of the best shooters we saw during this recruiting cycle. In terms of impact on winning, it didn’t matter if we watched him on his high school team or his AAU team, his teams always found a way to win. His personality, his competitive spirit, and understanding of the team concept are all attributes that excited us about Jordan in the process.
Next up is the guy who the coaching staff feels could be the steal of the recruiting process: Tre Clark (F, 6'5, Palmetto, FL.)
Clark will have a chance to garner some solid minutes as a true freshman, after being named a Florida High School All-Star last season and playing his AAU basketball for the Florida Sons before that.
During his senior season, he led the two counties (Manatee and Sarasota) in scoring, averaging 24.7 ppg along with 6.2 rebounds per game and five assists per game. Clark has a lineage of good athletes in his family, with the most notable being his father Willie Clark, who was a standout cornerback at Notre Dame during the early 1990s and eventual Chargers draft pick in 1994.
Clark reminds me a lot of a former player during the Joe Cantafio era, having seen him on film. In 1995-96, the Paladins brought in an athletic 6'5 guard/forward named Andre Kerr. Kerr probably did not come in as good of a shooter as Clark, but in terms of sheer athleticism, the comparison is not far off base.
Furman Associate Head Coach Bob Richey On Tre Clark:
One of the most exciting aspects to Tre’s game is his versatility. We see Tre as a guard that will have the ability to come in and potentially play some at all 3 of our guards spots. His ability to play with the ball in his hand combined with his size, length, and athleticism is hard to find at this level. We needed to replace some of what we were losing athletically on the perimeter in Stephen and while they are different players, Tre will be able to effect both ends of the court with his athletic ability. Tre has the presence and the confidence that you want in your players and we look forward to having him with us the next 4 years.
Clay Mounce (SF, 6'7, Mount Airy, N.C.)
Mounce rounds out the recruiting class, coming from Mount Airy High School, where he was a star performer for the Granite Bears, leading his program to a 25-4 overall record and a share of the Northwest Conference title for the second-straight season.
Mounce was named the District 11 and Northwest Player of the Year after putting together an outstanding senior campaign, which saw him average 25.2 ppg, 10.7 rpg, 3.2 apg, 3.0 blocks per game and 2.7 steals per game as a senior. Mounce was also named to the North Carolina Basketball Coaches Association all-state team, garnering third-team honors. He was also named a Triad All-Star and won the Triad Area Dunk contest. In his senior campaign alone, Mounce registered six 30-point games and 25 double-doubles.
Richey On Clay Mounce:
Clay is another player that brings a lot of versatility to the table. He had an extremely productive senior year and will bring another dimension to our forward spot. Clay is someone that plays with a high motor, can really impact that game with his athleticism, and has the skill set to play out away from the basket. At 6'7, he can provide production in the paint with his ability to block shots, finish above the rim and rebound the basketball, but he can also step out make plays on the floor as well. Clay is another player that brings a competitive nature to our program and our fans will definitely enjoy seeing all of his creative dunks if they haven't already.
Furman's most recent recruiting class joins the last two as a talented group with a defining characteristic. This class is the most athletic Medved has signed in his time at Furman.
Medved's first class, which featured Geoff Beans, Devin Sibley, Daniel Fowler and Jon Davis III, will be remembered most for the ability to score and play defense. Last year's newcomers, which featured Matt Rafferty, Andrew Brown, Jalen Williams (redshirt) and Jonathan Jean, will be most noted for rebounding, in Rafferty and Brown, while Jean made an already quick backcourt even quicker. While Rafferty garnered All-Freshman honors and is one of four returning starters, look for Williams and Brown to compete for solid minutes this season, while Jean will also see his minutes increase more than any of the other recruits following the graduation of Croone.
He will be locked in a battle with newcomer Lyons for minutes to join veteran Davis III in the Paladin backcourt next season, while Clark should push Fowler for minutes at the three. For Medved and his point man in recruiting, Richey, it's now 3-for-3 in signing outstanding, talented classes that can come in and contribute right away, and it's why Furman isn't going away.
Now it will be incumbent upon guys like Sibley and Kris Acox to take on more leadership roles this coming season, and by season's end, you may see both on an All-SoCon scroll, with Sibley having a chance to compete for Southern Conference Player of the Year honors. On paper at least, Furman should pose a challenge to Chattanooga for the Southern Conference crown next season.
"As we just witnessed with these graduating seniors, its important to add real character to your program and we certainly feel like we did that with all 3 of our signees," Richey added. "They are as excited about Furman as we are about them."