In his 34th year coaching college basketball, Barton College head coach Ron Lievense has guided his teams through all kinds of adversity. So it’s not surprising that Lievense, entering his 27th season leading the Bulldogs, is not ready to push the panic button despite a surprising spate of injuries bedeviling his team in the preseason.
Maybe it’s because after a rough start last season and a roster full of new faces, Barton got it together, starting in late January when the Bulldogs won 11 of their last 16 games to finish 16-14 overall and 13-11 in NCAA Division II Conference Carolinas. With all but two of the top eight players back, the Bulldogs have a real chance to improve upon that — if they can stay healthy, Lievense reminded repeatedly during a Tuesday morning interview in the basketball office he shares with veteran assistant coach Joel Zimmerman at Wilson Gym.
“I’m excited about the year and Coach Z worked really hard on recruiting these kids in and I think we’ve got a good group to work with,” said Lievense, who is 450-248 at Barton. “They have a long way to go in development in a lot of areas — mentally, emotionally. We’re working on competing and staying under control. I guess the word I would say is ‘composed’ while we compete. Some of these guys are fierce competitors, which I love, but you also have to be able to handle that in the heat of the moment, too. And so we’re working on that. We’re working on that every day and learning to play together more. And we’re going to improve, hopefully by January and February, we’ll take that jump that last year’s team did … to get us to sixth place in the league and hopefully this team can take that job and move forward beyond that.”
5 OF TOP 8 BACK, HEALTHY
Of the top eight scorers from last season, senior David Campbell graduated while Malik Bryant, who tied Donaven Hairston for the lead at 16.3 points per game, did not return. One who did return, guard Jett Fortuny, will miss the season due to an injury. Fortuny averaged 9.1 points per game as he led the Bulldogs in 3-point accuracy with a .424 percentage (61 of 144). That’s the most serious injury so far, but Lievense said a number of players are banged up after a couple of weeks of practice.
“We have talent to work with, if we can get them on the court because of the injuries,” he said.
One of the top returnees is redshirt sophomore Marcus Boykin, who was an All-Conference Carolinas third-team selection along with Bryant last season. Boykin, the younger brother of Barton standout Michael Boykin, came into his own last season as a feisty guard who plays all over the court. The 6-foot-1, 185-pounder averaged 14.6 points and 6.8 rebounds while leading the team in rebounds (204), assists (110), steals (47) and minutes played (938).
“Marcus plays with a chip on his shoulder,” Lievense said. “He’s competitive, really can drive that basketball. He’s improved his perimeter jump shot. He’s playing at a high level right now. He’s really playing at a high level and hopefully he can continue to do that.”
Even without Fortuny, Boykin, Hairston and senior Trevon Spencer (11.6 ppg) give the Bulldogs a lethal backcourt, made even tougher by the addition of several junior college transfers. Reese McDonald, who spent the spring semester at Barton, and Cameron “Bam” Lawson came from Brunswick Community College, which also spawned Spencer, while Shawn Nelson is a 6-4 pickup from Caldwell Community College. Lievense thinks all three, along with sophomore returner Caleb Reams, will give the Bulldogs a deep and capable backcourt.
“Well, if we can stay healthy, I think our perimeter play should be very strong,” Lievense said. “Those guys all have a level of talent and athleticism to help us.”
Lievense said that if things go Barton’s way, health-wise, he could have a 10-deep rotation.
It’s a little less crowded inside, which is not much different from last season when the 6-4 Campbell was left to play center. Returning is 6-8 sophomore Tre Morgan, who sat out last season with an injury, while another Brunswick transfer, 6-6 freshman Jarrian Hancock, and 6-8 freshman Miguel Shaw, a transfer from Div. I Cleveland State, will be the anchors in the paint.
“So, I think we’re coming along,” Lievense said. “We’ll find out, of course, tomorrow and Saturday, we’ll play Shaw and Fayetteville State (in exhibition games).”
PICKLE CLASSIC TIP-OFF
Barton won’t tip off the season until Friday, Nov. 11, when the Bulldogs face Peach Belt Conference contender Columbus State, an NCAA tournament team in 2021-22, before facing Augusta on Saturday, Nov. 12, in the second day of Mount Olive’s Pickle Classic. The Jaguars return four seniors from the team that lost in the Div. II national championship game.
“And, so right away, we’re playing out of the gate two nationally ranked teams,” Lievense said.
The following weekend, Nov. 18-19, Barton takes on Coker and St. Augustine’s in its 45-Second Classic at Wilson Gym. Conference Carolinas play starts Nov. 22 with just three more nonconference games the rest of the way — Nov. 29 at Elizabeth City State, Dec. 15 at home against USC Aiken and Dec. 19 at Wingate.
The roster goes 32 deep, but that includes players on the developmental squad that most Barton programs include. It’s littered with transfers, which is a sign of the times in the NCAA, Lievense said, and necessary, given the amount of flux in rosters that was created by the additional COVID-19 year granted by the NCAA.
“We have multiple guys that are seniors that could leave and you know, people say, well, who are you going to have to replace or do we have to sign?” Lievense said. “We don’t know. All these kids can come back or they could leave.”
BARTON PICKED 3RD
The Bulldogs certainly have the attention of Conference Carolinas coaches, who voted them to finish third behind defending regular-season champion UNC Pembroke and Emmanuel. The Bulldogs garnered 101 votes to finish ahead of Francis Marion, Lees-McRae, 2022 tournament champion Belmont Abbey, Mount Olive, Chowan, Converse, King, Southern Wesleyan, North Greenville and Erskine, in that order.
One thing is for sure, Conference Carolinas will have some of the top teams in the NCAA Div. II Southeast Region again.
“The conference is always going to be really good,” Lievense said. “There’s always going to be for four or five teams that could be really good. The coaches are really good at getting really amazing talent in our league.”
For Lievense, the best time of the year is right now, before games start, and the focus is on teaching and building relationships with his players, which is the foundation of the program.
“I love this time of year,” he said. “There’s no pressure on you to win a game. You can just enjoy being with the players. You just enjoy the relationship and the contact with them and that’s what I love. That’s why I do what I do is because of that relationship with the kids. If you’re doing it for any other reason, it’s an empty job. But if you’re building a relationship with the kids, and making a difference in them every day, which is what we try to do as we try to build them into young men. And so to me, that’s why you do what you do. Some people are so focused on the wins, that they forget why are you really a coach? You’re a coach to be a mentor to young people and help them grow and develop in their life. That’s what we try to do. Both Joel and I have the same philosophy in helping these kids grow and that’s important to us. I mean, we want to win and we want to win championships, but that’s not why we do what we do.”
No. Name Pos. Ht. Wt. Cl. Hometown/Previous school
0 Javontae Jones G 6-0 175 R-Fr. Lumberton, N.J. (Covenant Coll. Prep.
1 Caleb Reams G 6-0 170 So. Rocky Mount Northern Nash HS
2 Donaven Hairston G 6-2 180 Jr. Atlanta/USC Aiken
3 Marcus Boykin G 6-1 185 So. Clinton/Trinity Christian School
4 Trevon Spencer G 6-5 180 Sr. Columbia/Brunswick CC
5 Jett Fortuny G 6-3 190 Jr. Cary/Grand Valley State Univ.
10 Chris High G 6-3 180 Jr. Rocky Mount/Wake Technical CC
12 Shawn Nelson G 6-4 185 Jr. Southwest Ranches, Fla./Caldwell CC & TI
13 Cameron Lawson G 6-2 200 Jr. Clinton/Brunswick CC
14 Treasure Smith G 5-10 155 Sr. Raleigh/Apex Friendship HS
15 Jonathan Campbell F 6-4 200 So. Greensboro/Page HS
20 Dwayne Anderson G 6-3 190 So. Durham/Voyager Acad.
21 Carson Croom F 6-7 195 Fr. Raleigh/NC Good Better Best Acad.
22 Sencere Battle G 6-0 200 So. Rocky Mount/Northern Nash HS
23 Reese McDonald F 6-2 190 Jr. Raleigh/Brunswick CC
24 Jarrian Hancock F 6-6 190 Fr. Sanford/Brunswick CC
25 Sincere Parker G 6-2 205 Sr. Norfolk, Va./Mercyhurst CC
30 Isaiah Williams G 6-2 210 So. Durham/Jordan HS
31 Brent Eilertson G 6-0 190 Fr. Swansboro/Croatan HS
32 Tre Morgan F 6-8 225 R-Fr. Durham/Green Hope HS
33 Gabe Kirkendoll G 6-2 190 Gr. Jacksonville/Elizabeth City State
34 Tychaun Clay G 5-10 170 Fr. Wilson/Hunt HS
35 Miguel Shaw F 6-8 190 Fr. Atlanta/Cleveland State Univ.
40 Christian Pounds F 6-2 260 So. Rocky Mount/Rocky Mount HS
41 Devyn Bullock F 6-4 215 So. Fayetteville/Wilson Prep
42 Messiah Pankey G 6-2 210 Jr. Durham/Brevard Coll.
44 Michael Jones G 6-2 235 Fr. Morehead City/New Bern Christian
45 Elijah Sherrod F 6-4 220 So. Bailey/Greenfield
51 Matt Abell G 6-3 210 So. Hollywood, Md. Coastal Carolina Univ.
52 Antoine Yancey G 5-10 205 Fr. Clayton/Clayton Prep
53 Donshae Boseman G 6-2 180 Fr. Goldsboro/Southern Wayne HS
54 Emmanuel Harrison G 6-2 150 Fr. Enfield/Rocky Mount Prep.
55 Joshuah Miller G 5-9 145 Fr. Yorktown, Va./Hampton Christian Acad.
Pickle Classic at Mount Olive
Nov. 11 Columbus St.
Nov. 12 Augusta
Nov. 18 Coker
Nov. 19 St. Augustine’s
Nov. 22 Southern Wesleyan*
Nov. 29 at Elizabeth City St.
Dec. 3 at North Greenville*
Dec. 7 Chowan*
Dec. 15 USC Aiken
Dec. 17 Converse*
Dec. 19 at Wingate
Jan. 4 at Emmanuel*
Jan. 7 North Greenville*
Jan. 11 Mount Olive*
Jan. 14 Belmont Abbey*
Jan. 16 at King*
Jan. 18 UNC Pembroke*
Jan. 21 at Converse*
Jan. 24 at Francis Marion*
Jan. 28 Erskine*
Feb. 1 at Mount Olive*
Feb. 4 at Lees-McRae*
Feb. 8 at UNC Pembroke*
Feb. 11 King*
Feb. 15 Francis Marion*
Feb. 18 at Southern Wesleyan*
Feb. 22 at Chowan*
* Conference Carolinas game