Expectations were high for the men’s basketball team at Warren Wilson College last season. The Owls were one game away from playing for a national championship the season before and the vast majority of the roster was returning.
Maybe that’s why the season in which the team posted an 11-19 record and failed to earn a bid in the United States Collegiate Athletic Association National Division 2 National Championship Tournament was such a “huge, huge disappointment” to third year head coach Anthony Barringer, who vows that this season will be different.
“We’re in a really good place going into this season,” he said of this year’s team. “I’ve got a really special group.”
That group includes plenty of new faces.
Gone are names like Thomas Hay, Steven Horton, Jr. and Garth Bailey, who, along with Sean Gribble and Kenrick Nesbitt, played significant roles last year as seniors. Devin Davis, who Barringer described as his best player, transferred to a college closer to his native Alabama just weeks prior to the season. Jaquann Lockhart informed his coach he wouldn’t be returning for his junior season months ago.
Barringer, however, is excited about the 10 players on his roster heading into the season.
“From a production standpoint, we didn’t lose a lot,” he said. “If you talk about numbers, our seniors numbers last season weren’t impressive.”
No senior averaged double digits for the Owls last season, but players like Hay were valuable in other areas.
“But losing someone like Thomas Hay is a big blow because he was our glue,” Barringer said. “He kept us together and he’d literally do whatever I asked him to do.”
One player who Barringer believes can help fill that role is senior transfer Darius Bryant, who was impressive in the Owls’ 88-81 loss to open the season against Hiwassee College.
“It was his first game for us, he split his nose open early in the first half and didn’t play most of the half,” Barringer said. “He finished with 12 points and 14 rebounds.”
Bryant is among a group of five players who Barringer said gives the Owls an “upgrade at every position” going into the season.
“The only thing we really lack at this point is size,” he said. “Just having Jaquann (Lockhart) and (Sean) Gribble, who are 6-foot-five and 6-foot-10, on the court, helped us.”
Another thing that helped the Owls last season was the scoring of Swannanoa Valley native MIchael Pomeroy, who led the team by averaging nearly 16 points per game. Pomeroy scored over 1,000 points in his basketball career at Owen.
Pomeroy, who Barringer said he expects to be a first team All-American, suffered a knee injury in April and was recently cleared to ease his way back into the lineup. The season opener against Hiwassee offered a glimpse of what to expect this year.
“He could easily lead the league in scoring,” Barringer said. “He played for the first time in seven months and scored 20 points in less than 11 minutes.”
Junior transfer Tyquavion Dix is a special player as well, according to the coach.
“We played a scrimmage game a couple weeks ago and he scored like 24 or 26,” Barringer said. “He got to the (free throw) line 17 times. He’s super athletic, he gets to the rim and he finishes pretty well.”
Senior Marques Sullivan was the Owls’ second-leading scorer a season ago and his ability to find open teammates makes him a “double double machine,” Barringer said.
“He could be a 12-point, 10-assist and 4 or 5 rebounds (per night) guy,” he said.
Barringer and his coaching staff are focused on the details.
“I let a lot of little things go last year because I had a lot of seniors,” he said. “I felt like because I had so many seniors and we fell just short of a championship that they’d be focused on those details on their own. They didn’t do that and I didn’t do a good job holding them accountable.”
This season players will have active hands on the defensive side of the ball and communicate effectively, Barringer said.
“We have this phrase ‘10 is 1,” and that just means there’s 10 of us on the team but we’re all on the same page, communicating the same way,” he said. “As a staff we’re focusing on teaching our specific terminology and making sure the guys know it.”
The team will also try to reestablish its identity on the court.
“We’re the hardest working guys and the toughest men on the floor 100 percent of the time,” Barringer said.
If his Owls do what they’re asked to do, then this season should mark a return to the postseason for Barringer’s squad.
“We’re going to win some games,” Barringer said. “I think we’ll beat teams we’re not supposed to beat. I have a really good feeling about this season.”