GREENEVILLE, Tenn. --- With three exhibition games behind them, the Tusculum University men's basketball team tips off the 2018-19 season for real this weekend at the South Atlantic Conference / Peach Belt Conference Challenge in Aiken, South Carolina.
Coach J.T. Burton's Pioneers will open against host USC Aiken on Friday followed by Saturday's match-up against defending PBC Champion Clayton State.
The Black and Orange completed a grueling three-game road swing over a six-day stretch which included exhibition contests against Arkansas, Tennessee and Cincinnati. The Pioneers learned a lot about themselves and hope to build upon the challenging preseason schedule as they embark upon the new basketball campaign.
Tusculum will play seven of its first eight games on the road including its first two league contests at Anderson (Nov. 28) and Catawba (Dec. 1). TU's lone home game of November will be on the 24th when they host regional foe Lander at Pioneer Arena.
Coach Burton, who is in his first season at the helm of the Tusculum program, inherits five lettermen from last year's 6-21 club that finished 10th in the league.
Burton, who took over the TU program in March, has amassed 150 victories including five 20-win campaigns, three national postseason appearances and two trips to the national quarterfinals as a collegiate head coach including six seasons at St. Catharine College and two years most recently at Motlow State.
Headlining the list of TU returnees is senior guard Donovan Donaldson. The 6-1, 185-pound Nashville, Tennessee native averaged 14.1 points per game (17th in SAC) including 18.6 ppg in his last five games a year ago. He also led the Pioneers with his 4.6 assists per game which was the third-best average in the conference. He also shot 80.4 percent from the free throw line, while averaging 2.9 rebounds and 1.1 steals per game.
Junior forward Caleb Hodnett returns for the Pioneers and was the team's second-leading rebounder with 4.7 boards per contest to go along with his 6.1 points per game. The 6-8, 195-pound product of Adolphus, Kentucky appeared in 24 games with nine starts and finished his sophomore year with 146 points, 113 rebounds and 23 assists.
Sophomore forward Brandon Mitchell was the team's top shot-blocker from a year ago. The 6-7, 195-pound junior finished seventh in the conference averaging 1.4 blocks per game. His 36 blocked shots were the ninth-most in a TU single-season while averaging 4.2 points and 4.3 rebounds per game. He totaled 108 points on the year including his game-winning lay-up with one second remaining in the Pioneers' road win at Belmont Abbey.
Senior guard Jackie Davis returns as the Washington State transfer averaged 4.5 points and 2.2 rebounds per game in his inaugural Tusculum campaign. The 6-4, 200-pound native of Long Beach, California saw action in 17 games with seven starts after missing nine outings due to injury throughout the course of the year.
Senior guard Malik Tyree has 31 games of collegiate experience as a Pioneer, including 20 outings and five starts a year ago with TU. The Lynchburg, Virginia native finished his junior season with 62 points, 19 rebounds, 21 assists and 20 steals.
Providing veteran leadership while taking a medical redshirt this season is senior forward Zach Hartle. Hartle, a 6-7 native of King, North Carolina, averaged 7.5 points and was TU's fifth-leading scorer (187 pts). He shot a team-best 45.2 percent from three-point territory, which was third in the conference. He went 47-of-104 from beyond the arc while also averaging 4.0 rebounds per game and finished third on the team with 10 blocked shots. His .418 career three-point field goal percentage is sixth in program history.
Coach Burton has brought in a talented group of newcomers featuring eight transfers and seven true freshmen.
Chadron State transfer Austin Hall comes to Tusculum for his first and only season in the Black and Orange. At 6-6 and 210-pounds, the Aurora, Colorado senior brings valuable game experience both at the junior college and NCAA Division II level. At Chadron State, Hall averaged 5.8 points, 4.4 rebounds and 0.5 assists in his 24 games.
Junior center Cam King played the previous two seasons at Navarro College in Texas. A native of London, England, King played in 38 games during his junior college career. In his rookie campaign, he tallied 3.6 points and 2.4 rebounds per contest. In his final year at Navarro, the 6-8, 200-pounder shot 50 percent from the floor while averaging 1.6 points and 1.8 boards per game.
Tariq Jenkins comes to TU after two seasons at East Georgia State. He earned a spot on the GCAA All-Freshman Team and was a two-time GCAA All-Star. He was named the EGSC Offensive Player of the Year averaging 16 points, 5.5 assists and 4.0 rebounds this past season at the Swainsboro, Georgia junior college. In his rookie JUCO campaign, he tallied 11.7 points, 3.0 assists and 2.0 boards per contest. Jenkins played his prep career at Jonesboro High School in Georgia where he garnered All-Region and All-County accolades.
Junior guard Dillon Nash averaged 10 points, 3.0 rebounds and 5.0 assists per outing in his two seasons at the College of the Redwoods. The 5-11, 185-pound native of Chicago lettered four seasons at Brooks College Prep.
Two Motlow State standouts who Burton mentored during his two years as head coach there, reunite with him in Greeneville. Junior guard Dillon Smith was a member of two conference championship teams at Motlow, including his rookie campaign with Coach Burton. The 6-1, 175-pound guard averaged 10.6 points, 3.1 rebounds and 1.6 assists and 1.8 steals per game. He started in all 31 games last season and led Motlow to a 23-8 overall record. Smith, a native of Lexington, Tennessee, was a 1,000-point scorer at Lexington High School while garnering All-Conference, All-District and All-Region honors.
Also joining the TU program from Motlow State is 6-8 forward Chad Emmons. Emmons appeared in 24 games where he totaled 41 rebounds, 47 points and three blocked shots. The Greensburg, Kentucky native averaged 2.0 points and 1.7 rebounds per contest for the Bucks. He was also a two-time KHSAA All-District performer at Green County High School during his prep career.
Joining the Pioneers from nearby Maryville College is sophomore guard Arrhen Fejokwu. The 6-4, 200-pound native of Benin City, Nigeria, redshirted in his lone season with the Scots. He played his prep career at Central Gwinnett High School in Lawrenceville, Georgia where he averaged 9.0 points and 4.0 rebounds per game while garnering All-Star honors.
The tallest player on the Tusculum roster this season is 7-1 center Mo Ahmed. Ahmed, a native of Khartoum, Sudan, played in 18 games last season at NCAA Division I Missouri-Kansas City. He shot 46.4 percent from the field while averaging 1.8 points and 1.5 rebounds per game. He totaled 33 points, 27 rebounds, four steals and recorded six blocked shots.
One of the freshmen that is slated to see some extensive playing time is 6-4 guard Trenton Gibson. Gibson was a standout at Blackman High School in Murfreesboro, Tennessee where he was the District Player of the Year while averaging 16.5 points, 5.5 assists and 5.0 rebounds per game. He holds records for career points and has the Blackman single-season record with his 180 assists.
Woodstock, Georgia freshman Adrian Cohen earned All-Region honors while leading his Etowah High School team to back-to-back Region titles. The 6-6, 200-pound guard averaged 15 points in his senior campaign.
Myles Jones, a 6-4, 185-pound guard from Alexandria, Virginia, earned All-State honors at Blue Ridge High School. He averaged 11 points and 3.0 assists per game as he led Blue Ridge to a 2017 State championship, while also a pair of State runner-up finishes in 2016 and 2018.
Zack Dixon, a 6-2, 180-pound rookie guard from Charlotte, North Carolina was a two-time All-Conference performer at Hopewell High School. He was named his team's most valuable player last season while averaging 13.0 points, 3.0 rebounds, 2.0 assists and 2.0 steals per game as he led Hopewell to its first playoff appearance in eight seasons.
John Bella-Hunter, a 6-9, 190-pound forward from Amherst, Massachusetts, lettered two years at The MadDuffie School. He posted 10 points, 8.0 rebounds and 1.5 blocked shots per game during his prep career.
Davion Moses, a 6-3, 180-pound native of Nashville, Tennessee, scored 990 career points and was a 2017 All-Star at Overton High School, while Richmond, Texas native and 6-1 guard Shemar Shakespeare was a prep standout at Travis High School.
Following this weekend's games at the SAC / Peach Belt Challenge, TU will be in action next Wednesday at Lander in the first of two meetings this month with the Bearcats and will be at Lees-McRae next weekend.