Two years ago, Samford won 20 games. It seemed that the ball was rolling in the right direction for head coach Scott Padgett, who took over in 2014-15. He even earned himself a contract extension last July, which will take him through 2022.
The extension was certainly understandable, especially after leading the Bulldogs to a 20-16 record and the first postseason win in program history in 2017.
Padgett did not exactly inherit an easy situation after prior coach Bennie Seltzer was fired. He had to figure out a way to pick up the pieces after 14 players transferred out of the program during Seltzer’s two seasons at the helm.
Now fast-forward to the 2017-18 season, where Samford was seen by some as a preseason favorite. Padgett and the Bulldogs returned all the significant pieces to live up to such lofty preseason accolades, and even made key additions, such as Alabama transfer point guard Justin Coleman.
But things didn’t work out, and now Padgett is dealing with another mass exodus.
Wyatt Walker (First-Team All-SoCon in 2016-17), Christen Cunningham (the school’s all-time assist leader), Justin Coleman (Second-Team All-SoCon in 2017-18) and Triston Chambers (SoCon All-Freshman Team in 2016-17) have all decided to transfer out of the program.
After injuries decimated the Bulldogs in 2017-18, Samford was not the same as it was a year earlier by any stretch. Walker and Cunningham — two all-conference players — suffered early season injuries and did not return the remainder of the season. Add to that a season-ending injury later in the season to post Alex Peters, and the depth only got thinner underneath the basket.
The Bulldogs struggled to win as half as many games as 2016-17, and finished the season with just a 10-22 overall record and a 6-12 mark in the league. Adding to the frustration for Padgett and the Bulldogs was an 89-79 opening-round loss to 10th-seeded Chattanooga in the conference tournament.
The problem wasn’t on offense. With the likes of Coleman (13.5 PPG, 6.6 APG), Demetrius Denzel-Dyson (15.2 PPG, 5.0 RPG), Chambers (8.8 PPG, 1.9 RPG), Josh Sharkey (7.3 PPG, 2.1 RPG, 5.1 APG) and the sharp-shooting Alex Thompson (11.6 PPG, 3.7PPG), the Bulldogs were tough to stop. They finished the season third in the Southern Conference in scoring offense (77.6 PPG), fourth in field goal percentage (47.1%), third in three-point field goal percentage (37.3%), first in assists (16.6 APG), and fifth in the three-point field goals made (289 made/9.0 PG).
The problems came on the defensive end and in rebounding. That’s where the attrition showed up the most due to the early season injuries. The Bulldogs ranked ninth in the SoCon in scoring defense (82.5 PPG), 10th in field goal percentage defense (48.8%), 10th in three-point field goal percentage defense (37.3%) and ninth in rebounding margin (-5.6). Walker had ranked first in the SoCon in rebounding in 2016-17, averaging 9.7 boards-per-game, and that equated to the Bulldogs ranking three places higher in rebounding margin (+0.6) last season.
Walker was a SoCon All-Freshman team honoree in 2015-16 and was a Third-Team All-SoCon selection in 2016-17. He was also named preseason First-Team All-SoCon prior to the 2017-18 season. Walker played in just two games this past season before injury forced him to be sidelined. He scored a total of 797 career points, but had only 18 combined points in two games this past season before succumbing to injury. It is unclear as to where he will transfer.
Cunningham came into what would have been his senior season at Samford ranking as the school’s all-time assists leader and was No. 14 on the all-time scoring list. However, Cunningham’s season ended after only nine games. He finished his Samford career with 514 career assists and 1,283 points as a Bulldog. It has also not been announced where he will play his final season.
Coleman ended his first and only campaign in the Southern Conference by averaging 13.5 PPG and leading the SoCon in assists-per-game (6.6. Coleman leave as a grad transfer. Furman head coach Bob Richey called Coleman the most versatile point guard the Paladins faced all season. Coleman finished the season with a Samford single-season record for assists with 210.
Chambers finished out his Samford career as one of the Bulldogs’ best shooters over the past couple of seasons, connecting on 45.2 percent of his attempts this past season to lead the SoCon.
In addition to the transfers, Padgett will also bid farewell to seniors Alex Thompson (11.6 PPG, 3.7 RPG), Eric Adams (10.0 PPG, 6.5 RPG), Alex Peters (4.0 PPG, 2.7 RPG) and Denzel-Dyson (15.2 PPG, 5.0 RPG). All told, Samford will lose its top seven scorers and top seven rebounders from a year ago.
The player with the most experience and scoring prowess returning to Samford is Sharkey. He averaged 27.2 minutes per game last season, and will enter his junior season expected to be the player relied upon to carry the backcourt. Sharkey ranked second to only Coleman in assists per game last season.
There is a at least a bit of good news for Padgett, who picked up talented four-star (ESPN.com) guard Steven Fitzgerald in early October. He is one of the top SoCon signees and could make an immediate impact.