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Welcome to the Big South: A weekly brief

All the latest news and notes coming from around the league

NCAA Basketball: NCAA Tournament-First Round-Butler vs Winthrop James Lang-USA TODAY Sports

Keon Johnson and Chris Clemons blessed the basketball world with some of the most thrilling individual performances in college basketball this past season. The UNC Asheville Bulldogs and the Liberty Flames displayed an impressive brand of hoops, making the race for the top spot intriguing. But it was the Winthrop Eagles who took the tournament championship and grabbed an NCAA berth.

The Big South was competitive in 2016-17, and with the moves made this offseason, next season could be even better. Here’s a rundown of headlines from Bangin’ Big South.

Coaches

Presbyterian College had a changing of the guard, hiring Dustin Kerns as the program’s 18th head coach on May 23. Kerns brings with him an extensive resume, most of which was spent between the Santa Carla Broncos and the Wofford Terriers, where he was the associate head coach for the past four years. He began his coaching career under the tutelage of former Clemson coach Larry Shyatt, and learned from Tennessee Tech coach Mike Sutton and former Tennessee coach Buzz Peterson. Kerns is versatile, having served as a student assistant, director of basketball operations, graduate assistant, and assistant coach.

Kerns will have his work cut out for him as the Blue Hose are coming off a season in which they won five games and just one in conference. Known as one of the top mid-major assistants before this hire, with a knack for recruiting high-level talent, this could be the start of a turnaround in Clinton, S.C.

Winthrop adds seven newcomers

Pat Kelsey has hit the ground running as he replenishes the Eagles’ roster. Winthrop has received commitments from former Fordham guard and JUCO transfer Nych Smith and JUCO transfer forward Austin Awad. They also signed two Australian players, guard Kyle Zunic and 6’10 center Tom Pupavac. Guards Charles Falden and Keondre Schumache, as well as forward Jermaine Ukaegbu have also signed National Letters of Intent.

The combination of guards joining the program are vital to generating the production the Eagles lose from Johnson’s departure. Falden was the Virginia High School League 5A State Player of the year at L.C. Bird High School as a senior, then went on to average 24 points per game at Massanutten Military Prep School. He could be called upon to create some offense based on his shooting ability and scorer’s mentality.

Jermaine Ukaegbu played his most of his freshmen year at Sacred Heart then transferred to Indian Hills Community College. Ukaegbu, although a bit undersized, will join Pupavac to provide depth in the front court.

Tennessee Mr. Basketball finalist joins UNC Asheville recruiting class

Guard Tajion Jones has signed a Letter of National Intent to play for head coach Nick McDevitt and the UNC Asheville Bulldogs.

At Oak Ridge, Jones ended his high school career posting 18.5 points, 5.3 rebounds, 4.2 assists, and 3.1 steals per game in his senior year. He joins fellow two-star recruits, both 6’5 shooting guards, Jalen Seegars and Connor Crabtree, to round out the Bulldogs recruiting class. Although the Bulldogs return a veteran core, particularly in the backcourt, the trio of incoming freshmen have an opportunity to learn the system with the possibility of being key contributors off the bench.

7’2 3-star commit headlines Liberty’s freshmen class

Center Brendan Newton was phenomenal at Faith Christian School in Roanoke, Virginia and is looking to keep that going at Liberty for the next four years. He will be joined by incoming freshmen Elijah Cuffee, Keegan McDowell, and Jay Barber. All four have signed Letters of National Intent for the Flames, who are coming off a third-place regular season finish. Those three give the Flames added depth to an already balanced attack on the wing. Newton should have an immediate impact as Liberty has a shortage in the front court. The 2017 McDonald’s All-American nominee might be the centerpiece to push the Flames to the top of the Big South.