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Jay Joyner looking to make history of his own at North Carolina A&T

For a school that’s rising on many levels, the third-year coach has his basketball program ready to rise too.

NCAA Basketball: North Carolina A&T at Wake Forest Jeremy Brevard-USA TODAY Sports

What a time to be a North Carolina A&T Aggie.

The Aggies have seen success on and off the field. North Carolina A&T is the biggest MEAC school in terms of undergraduate enrollment, its engineering program has a national reputation and it’s fair to say that the #AggiesDo hashtag is incredibly accurate.

On the athletic side, the Aggies have been winning a lot lately. Their football team went on a 15-game undefeated streak that lasted from last season to this season. They had two players drafted in the NFL draft recently as Tarik Cohen was taken by the Bears in 2017 and Brandon Parker was taken by the Raiders this past year. And their trophy case has gotten bigger due to Bowling, Track and Field and Women’s basketball.

Men’s basketball nearly added to that last year. After being picked dead last in the preseason MEAC rankings, the Aggies shocked everyone and tied for second place (11-5) in the regular season. Their resurgent season ended in the MEAC Tournament semifinals, just two games away from the NCAA Tournament.

On a broader level, last year’s breakout season for A&T coach third-year head coach Jay Joyner was historical, especially considering the recent history of Aggie basketball. Their overall winning percentage of .571 was the program’s best since the 1991 season, and they got achingly close to the NCAA Tournament, somewhere they’ve been just one time since 1995.

It’s major, especially because a legend that used to roam the sidelines for NC A&T — Don Corbett — passed away in September.

Corbett won seven straight tournament conference titles between 1982-88, amidst 14 years in charge of the program. The mark is still tied with Kentucky for the longest such streak in Division I history (1944-50). Corbett had eight straight winning seasons (11 altogether) from 1979-93, and led the Aggies to seven NCAA appearances and one NIT appearance. Shortly after that, Jeff Capel and Roy Thomas took A&T to the tournament again in 1993-94 and 1994-95, respectively. But since then, the Aggies lone NCAA Tournament appearance came in 2013.

Corbett was a staple, and his era (and slightly after) was the last true point in history that Aggie fans could look at consistent success on the hardwood. At a university that is winning on many levels, that adds pressure to Joyner, but that’s something he’s used to.

In his first full season as head coach in 2015-16, he went 3-29; the second worst record in school history. He then reversed the team’s fortunes and shocked everyone last season. On paper, it seems like A&T will capitalize off of that, but that might not be the case.

The Aggies lost the majority of their roster from last year. Leading scorer Femi Olujobi transferred to DePaul. Denzel Keyes, Devonte Boykins, and Davaris McGowens ran out of eligibility, and six others either transferred or graduated. All of that meant 10 new players entering the program, but Joyner isn’t afraid of the road ahead.

“We will not have a drop off in terms of talent,” Jay Joyner said. “We have guys who have played Division I basketball for quite some time. We have guys who have graduated college, so we have maturity. This is also the most depth we have had since I started coaching here. They just have to learn how to play together.”

The Aggies have players with major experience that will be merged with some MEAC household names from last season. Kameron Langley is one of those names. He was named to the MEAC All-Rookie team and led the league in steals. The point guard is also finding confidence in his shot, which was seen Tuesday night against Maryland when he went four-for-six from the field. Senior Aaren Edmead also returns for the Aggies, and is the leading returning scorer from last season (9.6 PPG).

In terms of newcomers, Middle Tennessee transfer Qua Copeland sat out last season due to NCAA transfer rules. The explosive forward scored seven points in 11 minutes against the Terrapins, and is lethal from three, and not afraid to attack the hoop.

Joyner added Junior College transfers Andre Jackson and Ronald Jackson Jr, as well as 6’9’’ center Nelson Nweke from Arkansas State and 6’8’’ forward Ibrahim Syllas from Northern Colorado. The freshman class includes Baltimore’s Ed Ferguson, New York’s Tyrone Lyons, and Greensboro’s Travon Mayo.

Overall, Joyner has proved that he can win. The key is the amount of time it takes for the team to gel. That’s tricky for most fans. The team is off to an 0-3 start against quality competition (UNC Greensboro, Wake Forest, Maryland) but in a league that depends heavily on conference play, Joyner has time to get things right.

The Aggies can shake the table once again this season. In a school that’s rising on many levels, Joyner has his basketball program ready to rise as well.