Carlik Jones is one of the best players in Radford history, but unfortunately for the Highlanders, he will not finish his career in the Big South. Jones, who was a top player in the NCAA transfer portal this offseason, will attend Louisville in 2020-21. Choosing the Cards not only means he will be closer to his hometown of Cincinnati, Ohio, but he also likely joins a starting line-up for a team that will give him a better chance to raise his draft stock.
How Radford will compensate for losing Jones’s 20 points, 5.1 rebounds, and 5.5 assists (which he did at just 6’1) may be the greatest challenge in coach Mike Jones’s 10 years at the helm. That’s not to say he’s ill-equipped for the task. Radford has played Division I basketball for 35 years. In that span, the Highlanders have had 11 20-win seasons, and Jones has coached five of them. The most recent was this past season, where Radford finished 21-11 (15-3) and earned the No. 1 seed in the Big South Conference championship.
This issue isn’t just Jones’s departure; It’s the loss of the five seniors and two more transfers. Coaches at blue chip universities may have an easier time reloading, but that’s not the case in the Big South. The two transfers, Leroy Butts IV and Cle’von Greene, averaged 13.1 and 4.1 points, respectively. The five players who graduated (Donald Hicks, Devine Eke, Devonnte Holland, Devin Hutchinson, John Caldwell) combined to score 25.4 points per game. For those keeping track at home, all together, Radford lost 45.9 of the 71.9 points it averaged per game. Their highest returning scorer? The 6’5 forward Chyree Walker, who averaged 3.1 points in 22 games of action. That’s concerning, to say the least.
The good news? Help is on the way as at least seven new additions will attempt to crack the starting line-up. The incoming freshmen include 6’2 guard Xavier Lipscomb (who chose to go to neither Xavier nor Lipscomb), 5’11 guard Fah’mir Ali, and 6’3” guard Keishon Porter. In a normal year, you would expect one of them to possibly redshirt, but this year, all three might be needed to fill the rotation.
Junior college transfer Dante Moses comes to Radford after a two-year career at Daytona State College. The 6’4 guard is hopefully a piece Mike Jones can use right away. It will be interesting to see how his 13.7 PPG, 5.0 RPG, and 2.1 APG translate to a D-I school. With the thin roster, we are likely to find out sooner than later.
At 6’11, junior college transfer Jamal Burke makes his way to Radford after protecting the paint for the last two years for Georgia Highlands University. Burke is likely to make an immediate impact in Big South play — a conference without a ton of frontcourt talent.
Finally, Shaquan Jones comes with high praise from Mike Jones, who says Shaquan is “reminiscent of some Radford greats.” The 6’7 forward averaged 8.5 points and 4.5 rebounds at Division II USC-Aiken, but the hope is he will blossom with his chance in the big leagues.
While the transfers bring college basketball experience to Radford, they don’t bring D-I experience. It will be interesting to see how Mike Jones uses all of his new weapons as they enter a season that sees a rather tough non-conference schedule, including games at Vanderbilt, NC State, ECU, and TCU. The hope is to keep the growing pains manageable before getting some reprieve heading into a softer (but not soft) conference schedule.
The outlook for Radford is a hard one to predict. It’s easy to say with all the new faces, it will be a down year. Mike Jones seems up to the challenge, but giving Radford its fourth 20-win season in a row will be a tough task.