PERKINSTON — Led by one of the top junior college players in the country, the Mississippi Gulf Coast men's basketball team will need contributions from its youngsters for a successful 2016-17 season.
Forward Davion Cole-Johnson (6-4, 210, So., Pike/Glen Ellyn, Ill.) emerged as a star during his first-ever season of organized basketball, averaging 18.2 points, 5.6 rebounds, 2.4 assists and 1.1 steals per game.
"He's tremendous in the open floor," Bulldogs coach Wendell Weathers said. "If we can get him the ball 30, 40 feet from the basket, he's probably going to score or get fouled every time. He's an athlete of the highest caliber. He can play in any conference in America from his athletic standpoint."
Gulf Coast opens the season Thursday in Hattiesburg against the William Carey junior varsity. Tipoff is at 7 p.m.
Cole-Johnson, who was named to the All-Region 23 team, has been piling up Division I scholarship offers from across the country.
His two fellow returning sophomores will help carry the load. Guard Zach Parker (6-2, 185, So., Biloxi/Biloxi) and forward Tedrian Brisco (6-5, 195, So., Porter's Chapel/Vicksburg) were important contributors on last season's 19-7 team that challenged for the MACJC South title to the final game of the regular season.
"Zach Parker is a guy who came off the bench last year and shot the ball really well," Weathers said. "We're expecting big things out of him."
Parker averaged 7.2 points per game while shooting nearly 35 percent from 3-point range. Brisco averaged 8.2 points, 5.3 rebounds and 1.1 blocks per game.
"Ted Brisco is an undersized (power forward) who plays bigger than he really is," Weather said. "He plays really hard all the time. He's going to huge contributor."
The Bulldogs have a pair of transfers who could also step right in and help. Forward Harvey Smart (6-3, 167, So., West Harrison/Gulfport) returns to South Mississippi after a freshman season at Itawamba that saw him average 3.8 points and 1.7 rebounds. Smart is a former Sun Herald Player of the Year from West Harrison.
Point guard Winston Morgan (5-10, 170, So., East Catholic/Manchester, Conn.) averaged 10.1 points, 2.3 rebounds and 1.4 assists at Howard College in Texas. He shot 40.9 percent from behind the 3-point line.
"I think our potential is very, very good," Weathers said. "How far we reach and where we go is going to depend on our point guards. We had two very good point guard last year who are at Division I programs this year, and that's an inexperienced spot we have to fill. It's probably our most important position."
Morgan is one of the players who will try to fill the void left by the departure of Deshawn Jones (Jacksonville State) and Eliel Gonzalez (North Carolina A&T).
St. Julian was a Clarion-Ledger Dandy Dozen selection and played in the Mississippi-Alabama Basketball Classic after averaging 22.5 points, 6.4 rebounds, 2.5 assists and 3.0 steals as a senior. He was the Sun Herald's South Mississippi Player of the Year.
"Stacee St. Julian is doing a really good job at the point," Weathers said. "Jaylen Peters is doing a really good job. He's a big strong athletic kid who can do a lot of things. Qua'darius Green is really exceeding our expectations. He can do a lot of things we really didn't know he could do."
Peters (6-3, 194, Fr., Pass Christian/Pass Christian) is a guard who averaged 13.9 points, 6.6 rebounds, 1.4 steals, 1.4 blocks and 1.1 assists on his way to making the Sun Herald All-South Mississippi team.
Green (6-8, 180, Fr., McComb/McComb), a forward, averaged 12.1 points and 6.8 rebounds on his way to playing in the Mississippi-Alabama Basketball Classic.
Expect to see more high-octane basketball from the Bulldogs this year.
"We're going to try to play that way," Weathers said. "We like to run the ball at the rim, and run the ball up and down the floor. We averaged over 84 points a game last year and hopefully we can get close to that again this year."
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