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Western Carolina could be your SoCon sleeper in 2019

Could the Catamounts be the most improved team in the SoCon this year?

COLLEGE BASKETBALL: NOV 14 Western Carolina at SMU Photo by George Walker/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Last season, Mid-Major Madness was able to catch up with Western Carolina’s Carlos Dotson on a couple of occasions. Now, we have pretty much made this a thing, although this time we have a special treat as Catamount head coach Mark Prosser gave us his thoughts on his latest recruiting haul as well as the upcoming season.

The Catamounts lose just one player with starting experience from a year ago, and return five players that were double-digit scorers in SoCon play. There’s certainly reason to believe the Catamounts will be one of the more improved teams in mid-major hoops in 2019-20.

Western Carolina struggled to just a 7-25 overall mark with a 4-14 ledger in Southern Conference play, but hope springs eternal for Dotson and his teammates. With practice now in full swing, Dotson and the Catamounts are hungry to make the coming campaign one that hasn’t been seen in Cullowhee in several years.

“We were in so many close games last season. I mean, if you look at the Furman game early and both games against UNC Greensboro, we were right there, but those teams’ experience and instinct during crunch time was what helped them get over the top,” Dotson said.

It was no fault of Dotson or his young teammates, as the effort was there in all 32 games for the Catamounts last season. However, there were two different dynamics going on. The Catamounts were learning how to play under a new head coach, and it was a collection of talent that had virtually no experience playing together.

Dotson has the game to be one of the best big men around next year. He ranked in the top 50 nationally in field goal percentage (25th), offensive rebounds per game (32nd), and total rebounds (45th). He finished the season with 23 double-figure scoring performances, 15 games in double figures in rebounds, and 13 double-doubles.

Dotson admitted that despite the heartbreaking setbacks in league play last year, it’s the most fun he’s had in his well-traveled basketball career to this point, having spent a year at Division II Anderson. Dotson then spent two seasons at the College of Central Florida Junior College before maturing as a player and getting himself ready to play Division I basketball at Western Carolina.

“It was important for me to go the route I have gone. Not a lot of people thought I would make to where I have made it, and that’s something I am proud of, but there’s still a lot of work still left to be done,” Dotson said.

“I couldn’t ask for better coaches. Monty [Sanders] has been a blessing to learn from, and he’s taught me so much about post moves and using my body, and has been helping me develop other parts of my overall game, like my mid-range jumpshot,” he added.

Dotson has slimmed down since the end of last season, and in fact has lost seven pounds. He realized one major thing he needed to improve prior to his final season in Cullowhee: his body and his fitness.

“I realized down the stretch last year, it was tough because it gets to be a grind down the stretch. I knew I had to lose some weight and get leaner, and that would have made the stretch run last season a bit easier. That is the biggest thing I learned in my first season playing Division I basketball in this conference, and that’s the grind of the last two or three weeks of conference play are something your body has to be ready to endure.”

Not only does Prosser return his top scorer and rebounder for next season in Dotson, he also returns his top four scorers from a year ago, including SoCon All-Freshman team honoree Kameron Gibson (13.6 PPG, 2.1 RPG), sharp-shooting guard Matt Halvorsen (11.6 PPG, 2.8 APG) and do-everything forward Onno Steger (11.3 PPG, 4.8 RPG).

Reinforcements are on the way for the Catamounts, as Prosser and staff have completed one of the most impressive recruiting hauls in the Southern Conference over the off-season. The Catamounts signed five in the latest signing period. The Catamounts signed post players Nicholas Evtimov, Tyler Harris, Ahmir Langlais and Xavier Cork, while adding Travion McCray to the backcourt.

Tyler Harris is a big 6-6 kid from Independence High School in Charlotte and we were very fortunate with Tyler because he moved around a lot in his high school career and transferred for reasons that were very very good and because of that, I think he’s a player that fell through the cracks a little bit and he fits that hybrid forward position that a lot of times is difficult to find and he fills that need for us at the three and the four that maybe we didn’t have last year,” Prosser said.

“Travion McCray is a combo guard with the ability to score and very good athleticism and he gives us a little different dynamic with that because he has sort of toughness and an ‘it’ factor about him that we needed to add. In 15 months here we’ve had to fill nine scholarships, but if you look at where we have recruited from, those places have been extremely successful from Hargrave, to Independence, from Carlos [Dotson] who’s from the College of Central Florida. They come from programs that expect to win.”

“Xavier Cork is a 6-8 or 6-9 young man from Texas and he is sort of a change of pace player from Carlos at the five spot in that he gives us that length and athleticism and shot-blocking ability and an above the rim capability that we have not had. That presence in the paint hopefully will discourage some guys with when they come in there because of his ability as a shot blocker.”

“Nick Evtimov is someone we talk about that comes from one of the most successful programs in the country, in Greensboro Day and the type of program we are trying to recruit from. At 6-7 he’s got good size and very high level of skill and a better athlete than probably he gets credit for. He’s tough as can be and obviously his name is one that will resonate with ACC basketball fans, and he just got back from the European Championships with France’s U-19 team, which is an incredible experience for him as a player.”

Nick is the son of former North Carolina standout Vasil Evtimov, who starred with the likes of Vince Carter and Antawn Jamison as a Tar Heel during the late 1990s and early 2000s.

“We were able to add a guy that plays with good size and incredible athleticism as well in Ahmir Langlais - a very very young kid as is Tyler Harris - and those kids won’t turn 18 until August. Ahmir is kind of a nice blend of Xavier and Nick on some level and he’s skilled, long and athletic so we’re excited about the group we have coming in.”

Add to that the fact that Northern Kentucky transfer Mason Faulkner will be able to take over the point guard this spot, allowing Halvorsen to move back to his more natural shooting guard spot, and that seems to be even more of an indicator that the 2019-20 will be a successful one for Catamount basketball.

“We have a young man sitting out in Mason Faulkner, who is a point guard and has that length and speed and that skill level that could have an immediate impact for us, and we’re expecting him too and he’s been a dynamic point guard that touches the paint,” coach Mark Prosser said.

“Having Mason [Faulkner] eligible next season is going to be huge for us. Last season we were kind of asking Matt [Halvorsen] to kind of play out of position last season because he is normally a shooting guard, but having Matt back where he is more comfortable and having Mason at the point is going to help our offense so much,” Dotson said.

“We’ve fully bought into the motto that coach Prosser has given us, which is ‘It’s Coming’ and we know something special is getting ready to happen here,” Dotson said.

It might be coming sooner rather than later, Carlos.