GREENEVILLE, Tenn. --- Year two of the Coach J.T. Burton era begins this weekend as the Tusculum University men's basketball team opens the 2019-2020 campaign.
The Pioneers tip off the season at the South Atlantic Conference vs Peach Belt Conference Challenge and will take on PBC members USC Aiken and Clayton State this Friday and Saturday respectively at Tex Turner Arena on the Lincoln Memorial University campus.
Coach Burton returns seven lettermen including four starters from last year's squad that posted a 10-win improvement by going 16-13 overall and 12-8 in SAC play to climb to a fourth place finish in the league standings. The season got off to a sluggish start opening 4-8 but rallied to finish 12-4 including a six-game winning streak to wrap up the regular season.
Last year's squad played a stifling defense which allowed just 72.2 points per game which was the best in the league. TU held four of its final six opponents under 60 points.
Sophomore guard Trenton Gibson highlights the returning corps for the Pioneers. Gibson, a 6-4, 200-pound native of Murfreesboro, Tennessee, was the only player to appear in every game last season and led TU in assists as he dished out 3.6 helpers per game which were sixth in the league. The SAC Freshman of the Year was also the team's No. 2 scorer and rebounder, tallying 13.1 points (19th in SAC) and 5.6 rebounds per contest (18th in SAC). He was named to this year's Preseason All-SAC second team.
Senior guard Tariq Jenkins finished third on the team a year ago as he posted 12.5 points per game and led TU with 40 steals which were tied for ninth in the conference. The 6-2, 190-pounder from Riverdale, Georgia shot 45 percent from the field and hauled in 2.7 boards per contest.
Veteran forward Caleb Hodnett is back for his final Tusculum campaign. The 6-8, 195-pound native of Adolphus, Kentucky, graduated from TU in just three years and is enrolled in graduate school. Last year, he led the Pioneers on the boards, pulling down 6.4 rebounds per game (7th in SAC) go along with his 10.7 points per game which were fourth on the team. He also led TU shooting 54.1 percent from the field (9th in SAC), including 40 percent from beyond the three-point arc (11th in SAC).
Senior guard Dillon Smith poured in 55 three-pointers last year and finished fifth on the squad averaging 8.9 points per game. Smith shot 85.7 percent from the charity stripe and was second on the team with 32 steals.
Junior forward Brandon Mitchell has been Tusculum's top shot blocker over the past two years where he has totaled 74 rejections which are already the fifth-most in school history. His 38 blocks last year ranked him third in the conference and are tied for the eighth-most in a TU single-season. Mitchell, a 6-9, 195-pound product of Virginia Beach, Virginia, averaged 6.7 points and 5.2 rebounds per game (23rd in SAC).
Senior center Cameron King will be competing in his second and final season at Tusculum. The 6-9, 200-pound native of London, England, averaged 3.4 points and 4.4 rebounds per game as he saw action in 27 contests with 12 starts. Also returning from last year's club is sophomore guard Adrian Cohen. The Woodstock, Georgia native played in 25 games as a true freshman where he totaled 55 points, 39 rebounds and eight blocked shots.
Twelve newcomers (12) are on the 2019-20 roster for Coach Burton and the Pioneers. This year's batch includes 11 true freshmen and one junior transfer.
Lexington, Kentucky native Keaston Brown is a three-time All-City and All-Region choice at Henry Clay High School. He accounted for 1,093 points and 316 assists while leading his team to a pair of District titles while garnering All-District plaudits as well.
Rookie forward Justin Mitchell (Lexington, Ky.) lettered the past four seasons at Fredrick Douglass High School, while forward Joshua Scott (Pompano Beach, Fla.) will be contributing for the Pioneers. Scott was an All-State and All-County selection at Blanche Ely High School where he averaged 14 points, five rebounds and three assists per game. He was a member of three state championship teams at Ely HS.
Maryville, Tennessee junior gaurd Garrett Anderson comes to Tusculum after spending the last two years with the Maryville College basketball program. Anderson appeared in eight games as a rookie with the Scots, finishing with eight points and shot 43 percent from the floor and 33 percent from three-point territory. During his prep career at Alcoa High School, he scored 1,000 points while garnering All-Region and All-District accolades.
Rookie guard Makai Olden (Morristown, Tenn.) averaged 19 points, 7.9 rebounds and 3.2 assists per game while starring on the prep hardwood at Morristown West High School.
Freshman guard Cameron Willis posted 18.5 points per game average in his final two seasons at Washington County High School in his native Springfield, Kentucky. The three-time All-District performer finished his career with 1,894 points while also tallying All-Region honors twice. Fellow Springfield native and Washington County teammate Drew Yates also joins the Pioneers this year. Yates averaged 20 points per game and established the WCHS school record for most three-point field goals made. The All-Region selection boasted the best three-point field goal percentage on the team.
Freshman guard Miguel Boskovic (Las Palmas de Gran Canaria, Spain) is competing in his first Tusculum campaign along with rookie center Peter Mgbechi (Nigeria). The 6-10, 220-pound Mgbechi graduated from Logan Senior High School in West Virginia where he was an All-State selection while averaging 10 points, 12 rebounds and three blocked shots per outing.
Freshman guard Avishai Lowery garnered All-Conference honors at Athens Prep Academy in Athens, Tennessee while averaging 15 points and eight assists per contest. DyQuavis Wilkins led his Farmville Central High School club to the 2019 North Carolina state championship as the All-Conference standout averaged 15.3 points per game.
Rounding out the group of newcomers is 6-10, 235-pound center Filip Vuksanovic of Belgrade, Serbia. Vuksanovic, but played his prep hoops at Rabun Gap High School in Georgia.
Following this weekend's action, Tusculum will host Young Harris College this Tuesday night at Pioneer Arena for a 7:30 p.m. tip-off. TU will host Lenoir-Rhyne on Nov. 26 in the Pioneers' South Atlantic Conference lid-lifter.