Fauber: Hornets basketball team should see improvement

Shenandoah University’s football team picked up its first victory in Old Dominion Athletic Conference play earlier this season, and now it’s time for another Hornets men’s program to take aim at a similar feat.

The Hornets’ men’s basketball team will be looking for a better showing this season under third-year head coach Rob Pryor after a dismal debut in the ODAC a year ago.

Shenandoah had a season to forget in 2012-13, finishing with a 3-23 overall record that included an 0-16 mark in conference play (although the Hornets were awarded a win over Bridgewater following the season after the Eagles were forced to vacate four wins for using an ineligible player). The Hornets ended the year with a 19-game losing streak that spanned the final two and a half months of the season.

Last year was the second straight disappointing season for Pryor and the Hornets, as Shenandoah finished 5-22 in Pryor’s first season two years ago.

But things may start to turn around for the Hornets this season now that Pryor has had a few years to recruit players to fit his system, and the youth that hurt Shenandoah last season shouldn’t be as much of a factor this year.

Shenandoah didn’t lose a single player to graduation from last season’s squad, and nearly all of the major pieces from a year ago return for the Hornets this year.

Leading that group is junior guard Jared Carithers, who topped the Hornets last season with 13 points per game. Senior guard Avery Green, who averaged 9.9 points per game in just nine appearances, also returns, as does senior captain Bryce Mitchell (6.8 PPG). The Hornets’ leading rebounder from last season, 6-foot-3 junior Xavier Alston (5.0 rebounds per game), is also back.

The Hornets also have a legitimate 3-point threat in junior guard and Skyline High School graduate Eli McEathron, who worked his way into the starting five late last season. McEathron finished second in the ODAC last year with a 43.6-percent (24-for-55) mark from beyond the arc and should see an expanded role this season.

Pryor relied heavily on freshmen last year, particularly guard Sharif Almulla (9.8 PPG) and 6-foot-3 forward Shaquille Rodney (6.1 PPG, 3.9 RPG, 1.3 blocks per game), both of whom averaged over 24 minutes per game last season. Almulla has since transferred to Rollins College (Fla.), but Rodney returns and should benefit from last year’s experience.

Pryor also addressed the issue of Shenandoah’s lack of size by bringing in several big men in his 2013 recruiting class, which was finalized in mid-July.

The Hornets are welcoming in eight freshmen, along with former SU baseball player Sam Lawrence, in a freshman class that includes four forwards/centers.

Shenandoah had just one player taller than 6-foot-3 on its roster a year ago, but the addition of freshmen centers Brandon Kibbe (6-foot-8) — a Millbrook graduate — and Tyler Lineberry (6-foot-6), and forward C.J. Rudisill (6-foot-6) immediately fills that void.

Nik Stewart, a 6-foot-2, 180-pound guard, is also a highlight of Pryor’s 2013 recruiting class. Stewart averaged 22.2 points per game at Culpeper County High School last season and was named the Battlefield District Player of the Year. He was also a first-team all-Region I selection.

Shenandoah opens the 2013-14 season with an exhibition game against Division I Campbell University on Nov. 8, before beginning the regular season against Methodist in the Shenandoah tip-off on Nov. 15.

The Hornets will once again face the tough challenge of competing in the ODAC, but with the large amount of returning experience and the arrival of some much-needed size in the recruiting class, Shenandoah should be in good position to seize that prized first-ever ODAC victory, and possibly a few more along the way.

Contact sports writer Brad Fauber at 540-465-5137 ext. 184, or bfauber@nvdaily.com. Follow on Twitter @BradFauberNVD