POPLARVILLE, Miss. — Anticipation for the 2019-20 season now goes beyond the walls of Marvin R. White Coliseum and the Pearl River campus.
Fresh off of the program’s first NJCAA Tournament appearance and Sweet 16 berth, and the 2018 MACJC Championship, expectations have likely never been higher for the Wildcats.
Head men’s basketball coach Chris Oney was recently dropping off his daughter, Camryn, at her school when he noticed a countdown to basketball season.
“Is that for your school?” Oney asked.
“No, daddy,” she replied, “That’s for your team.”
That’s just one example of where the No. 11 Pearl River Wildcats are heading into Monday’s 7:30 p.m. season opener against Delgado.
The increased expectations — both internally and externally —led Oney to reach out to coaching colleagues who all told him the same thing: “You better get more afraid because now everybody is coming at you.”
If you attend a practice, however, you wouldn’t know anything is different about the latest iteration of the Wildcats.
“I just deal with it the only way I know how to deal with it, just keep my head down and work as hard as I can,” Oney said. “That’s what we preach to the guys. At the same time we tell them it’s going to be fun because we’re going to get every team’s best.
“We’re only going to worry about the things you can control.”
Heading into last year, the Wildcats were bolstered by a number of key returners from the 2018 MACJC Championship squad. This year, the Wildcats only welcome back three players who were largely role players. Oney and his staff added experience to their roster by bringing in four transfers. They also signed several impact freshmen who should play major minutes.
In total, although the team lost All-American Brandon Rachal and eight total four-year signees, Oney likes how this year’s roster stands heading into Monday’s opener at Marvin R. White Coliseum.
“They’re picking up on everything in practice and the learning curve has actually been a bit better than I anticipated,” he said. “I think that’s because we have a really good group of players — possibly the most skilled bunch of guys we have had since I have been here.
“Whether or not that equates to scoring more than the other team, we’ll see.”
While breaking down his lineup, it seemed every player Oney mentioned was followed by the word “complete.”
“We have guys who can really dribble, pass and shoot the ball. We have guys who can make a lot of basketball plays, where in the past we had guys who were really good in one or two areas,” he said. “That will make it harder for other teams to key in on just one or two guys.”
Last year’s team had the motto of “getting two percent better.” This year, the Wildcats aren’t putting a number on their progress.
“We’re going to try and be better when we leave the court than when we stepped foot on it. That’s our goal,” he said. “This bunch is destined to prove they can be just as good as last year’s team and make just as much noise. That’s them ready to prove that point.”
Back from last year’s 26-4 team that reeled off 18 straight wins to open the season and ended up being the last undefeated team standing are Kelvin Allen (Olive Branch), Cameron Smith (Okolona) and Ahmad Arrington (Collins; Biloxi).
“Kelvin, Cam and Ahmad are the only guys who have been in every gym we’re going to play in this year. They know what to expect,” Oney said. “I expect those guys when we get off the bus to know how to get to the locker room and court.
“They’ve been there and know what to expect.”
Allen averaged 7.1 points per game as a freshman to lead PRCC’s returners. Oney hopes the former Olive Branch Conquistador can take another step in Year 2 to become more well-rounded.
“He has the ability to run off a few. He needs to also understand we don’t have Rachal and Eric (Thornton Jr.) rebounding and kicking out second chances,” Oney said. “He’ll have to defend. He’ll need to be more complete.”
Oney has noticed Smith organically taking on a leadership role, whether vocally or leading by example. Arrington, Oney said, has been one of the surprises of the preseason and should see increased minutes as a sophomore.
This year’s roster features four impact transfers in Rod Brown (Memphis, Tenn.; Cordova), Tae Hardy (Ellenwood, Ga.; Believe Prep), Isaih Moore (Columbia, S.C.; Sumter) and Jamarcus Jones (Sardis, Miss.; North Panola). Brown, Hardy and Moore transferred from Wichita State, East Carolina and College of Charleston, respectively, and Jones joined PRCC from Northeast Mississippi C.C.
Brown, Jones and Moore are respectively listed at 6-foot-7, 6-7 and 6-10 and will add a much needed inside presence to PRCC’s lineup.
“He’s a rebounding machine,” Oney said of Brown. “He’s a team-first guy, which I love about him, kind of like Brandon Rachal, coming from Wichita State he could have been all about himself.
“He’ll be a big part of what we do”
Moore has already committed to St. John’s and may have the highest ceiling of anyone on the roster.
“When you watch him move at 6-10, it’s hard not to see he’s oozing with talent,” Oney said. “He can run, shoot, great hands, can finish around the rim. He has a chance to take us somewhere special. He can defend on the perimeter.
“He’s also a guy who has bought in to playing off the other guys and not just being an individual.”
Jones immediately carved out a role on the team and with his MACJC experience, he’ll be a key player for the Wildcats once conference play begins.
“Jamarcus has been our best post player from Day 1,” Oney said. “He’s a kid who averaged about 10 points per game as a freshman.
“He has gotten stronger and is in great shape. It’s showing on the court.”
“As crazy as it sounds, he’s probably been the most complete point guard we have had since I’ve been here,” Oney said. “He’s 6-3, uses his body well, can go right or left, make shots, he’s athletic, defends really well with great anticipation and can set guys up.
“He’s the complete guy at the point.”
As excited as the PRCC staff is about its transfer group, the Wildcats are equally anxious to see what their freshman signing class can do once the lights come on.
The freshmen group features twins Jariyon Wilkens (Biloxi) and Jaronn Wilkens (Biloxi), Earl Smith (Jackson, Miss.; Lanier), Kolby Moore (Clinton) and Dontavius Proby (Biloxi).
Smith was a Clarion-Ledger Dandy Dozen selection heading into last season and backed up the preseason hype.
“He’s a lot like Tae Hardy; he can do it all,” Oney said. “He’s long, can score, shoot 3s, set guys up and really defend.
“He has a chance to be special by the time he leaves here.”
The twins and Proby helped make Biloxi one of Mississippi’s top teams a year ago. They bring a diverse skillset to PRCC.
“The Twins, every time I look around I’m saying good play,” Oney said. “Jariyon has really stepped up his level of play, as has Jaronn. Those guys are way ahead of where I thought they would be. They have been really spectacular in practice.
“They still have work to do, but they have bought into the toughness we’ve been preaching.”
Proby is expected to play a reserve role this year at one of the guard spots.
With Moore, the Wildcats have another offensive weapon to deploy.
“Every day at the end of practice, Kolby is just one of those guys who you say, man, he had a really good day,” he said. “He’s been a guy who has been pretty steady.
“He’s in a position to where he can slowly come along and do all the things we’re trying to do.”
NEXT LEVEL WILDCATS
Oney’s squad had a massive out-going signing class last year with eight members of the Region XXIII Championship squad signing with four-year schools. In total, 16 former Wildcats are playing at the next level: Chris Agbo (Indiana State), Ray Anderson (Southern), Brim (North Alabama), Brandon Cranford (William Carey), Jartavius Dobbs (William Carey), Cam Douglas (William Carey), James (Jackson State), Rodney Mallet (William Carey), Javontae McDavid (William Carey), Ryan McRaney (William Carey), Kirk Parker (Southern), Langston Powell (UL-Monroe), Rachal (Tulsa), Jerrod Rigby (Southern Miss), Jvari Thigpen (William Carey) and White (Tougalou).
Additionally, eight former PRCC standouts are playing professionally: Malik Clements (Gorazde in Bosnia and Herzegovina), Jabari Craig (Targu Mures in Romania), Harold Givens (Dallas Heat in UBA), Leon Hampton (Team Japan in Eurobasket’s S-League), Demondre Harvey (Indios SFM in Dominican Republic), Xavian Rimmer (Louisiana Ballers in UBA), Branden Sheppard (Giessen Pointers in Germany) and Darral Willis (BC Nizhny Novgorod in Russia).
HOW TO TUNE IN
All home games will be streamed at PRCCAthletics.com, with all MACJC action — and select non-conference games — also airing on WRJW 1320-AM. Carey Meitzler will call the action alongside color analyst Mark Franklin.
For the latest on Pearl River Community College athletics, follow us on Twitter (@PRCCAthletics) and Facebook (PRCCAthletics).