HANCEVILLE, ALA. – Wallace State's men's basketball team opens the season today on the road at Tennessee Wesleyan College with an overhauled and intriguing roster.
Wallace State has a plethora of new faces on its roster as coach John Meeks enters his eighth season with the program.
"It was fun to recruit these guys. They're understanding the culture we want here and how we do things on a daily basis. They also understand the expectations of this program, and they have been phenomenal to work with," said Meeks, who has led Wallace State to a pair of Alabama Community College Conference (ACCC) championships. "We have a long way to go to figure out our continuity and the best lineups during the game, but these guys work hard. They come into the gym early and stay late, and that's what you want."
Despite no returning experience, Wallace State was recently selected to finish third in the conference, as voted on by the league coaches.
"That speaks to the tradition and notoriety of the program and where people think we'll be at the end of the season," Meeks said. "We've had a good preseason and know it's going to be an uphill battle. We're in a tough conference. I do think we have a chance to be in the mix when we get to that point."
At the wing position, redshirt freshmen Jonathan Andre and John Payne have stood out to Meeks. Andre transferred to Wallace State from Mercy College in New York, and Payne from Lindsey Wilson College in Kentucky.
"Jonathan Andre can do a lot of different things on the floor. He has a high basketball IQ," Meeks said. "John Payne can shoot the basketball and is one of the most fundamentally sound players I've ever been around."
Freshmen Chris Rollins and Mike Johnson have also impressed in the early going. Rollins, a 6-foot-6 guard, is from Hale County, which won the Class 4A state title in Alabama last season. Johnson, a 5-foot-11 guard, is from Allatoona High School in Acworth, Ga.
"Chris Rollins has been a big surprise. We felt like he could be a good piece for us, and he's stepped up and embraced a leadership role. He's brings energy for us on a daily basis. Guys feed off his energy," Meeks said. "Mike Johnson has also been good in the preseason. He's the type who is going to give you everything he's got when he's on the floor."
After four road games to begin the new campaign, Wallace State's first home contest is Nov. 17 vs. Martin Methodist College's JV.
"Because we are so new, we've had new guys step up from game to game. We've had guys embracing new roles during our scrimmages and I expect that to continue through November and December," Meeks said.
Sophomore transfers on the team are Deequan Fleming (Harrisburg, Pa.) and Trevoris Waugh (Miami Gardens, Fla.). Fleming came to Hanceville from Malcolm X College and Waugh from Minnesota West Community College. Freshman Kevin Wharton-Price, a 6-foot-6 forward, transferred to the Lions from Lee University in Tennessee.
Hanceville's Xavier Malcom, Central-Phenix City's Demarkus Lampley and Westbrook Christian's Will Jones join Rollins as the Alabama natives on this season's roster. Lampley was a Class 7A 3rd-team All-State selection as a high school senior. Jones was a Class 2A honorable mention selection.
Georgia natives on the roster are Jalen Hodges (Duluth), Damion Howell (Douglasville), Josh Scott (Lithonia) and Max Clark (Lawrenceville).
Rounding out roster are guards Dennis Robinson (Norfolk, Va.) and Jerry Lwamba (Mountain Mission School, Va.) and forward Geordan Walker (Durham, N.C.).
Wallace State's conference opener is Jan. 9 at Gadsden State. The Lions have an old ACCC foe back on the schedule this season with Bevill State rejoining the league after a six-year absence.
"I think we'll have a chance be there in the end even though we may not see a ton of immediate success. We've got two months to get our feet wet before conference play begins," Meeks said.
Meeks has led Wallace State to the postseason for six consecutive seasons, compiling a 136-90 record with the Lions among the two conference titles and two NJCAA national tournament appearances. Meeks was the 2014 ACCC Coach of the Year and the 2015 ACCC co-North Division Coach of the Year.
Timothy Bellmon returns for his third season as assistant coach.