Unknown Runnin Royals Expecting To Surprise

Sammy Thomas has shown flashes of being a dominant big man in the ODAC. (photo by Scott Eyre)
Sammy Thomas has shown flashes of being a dominant big man in the ODAC. (photo by Scott Eyre)

Unknowns are usually a bad thing when it comes to voting. In sports, unknowns leave the door open to perform better than expected.

Those two worlds played out in the Old Dominion Athletic Conference Men's Basketball Preseason Poll, where the league's coaches saw the unknowns on EMU's team and voted the Runnin Royals into a tie for 11th. The team itself has much higher expectations.

Eastern Mennonite received 31 points in the voting, matching Shenandoah University. The two teams are ahead of ODAC-newcomer Ferrum College at 25, and just four points behind Randolph in the No. 10 spot with 35 points.

Click here to see the ODAC Men's Basketball Virtual Guide.

The Royals finished 12-15 last year, but made a thrilling run in the ODAC Tournament, losing to eventual champion Emory & Henry in the semifinals, 78-76.

EMU graduated four senior starters from that team in RaShawn Latimer, Isaiah Harris-Winn, Maleke Jones and Jerome Jones. The program itself has an air of "unknown" as well, with Melvin Felix taking over for Kirby Dean, who had created the exciting "Runnin Royals" entity over the past 15 years.

The "known" quantity of the program takes over from there, as Felix had been Dean's top assistant for the last seven years, doing much of the recruiting and player development. Skilled center Sammy Thomas (Owings, Md./Northern) returns to anchor the interior for the Royals, with averages of 8.2 points and 5.4 rebounds per game as a junior. Fellow senior Travis Clower (Romney, W.V./Hampshire) started nine games and was one of the ODAC's top three point shooters last year, averaging 7.1 points. Guard Xavier McCants (Olney, Md./Sherwood) and forward DJ Hill (Woodbridge, Va./Hylton) also played in all 27 of EMU's games last year.

EMU opens the season next Tuesday, playing an exhibition at D-I James Madison. This is the third time over the past four years where the Royals have played at JMU. Game time is 7:00pm.

2018-19 ODAC MEN'S BASKETBALL PRESEASON POLL
(#) Denotes First Place Votes

1. Roanoke College (7) - 137 pts.
2. Randolph-Macon College (3) - 127 pts.
3. Guilford College (3) - 121 pts.
4. Virginia Wesleyan University - 105 pts.
5. Emory & Henry College - 104 pts.
6. Washington and Lee University - 94 pts.
7. University of Lynchburg - 87 pts.
8. Bridgewater College - 64 pts.
9. Hampden-Sydney College - 53 pts.
10. Randolph College - 35 pts.
t11. Eastern Mennonite University - 31 pts.
t11. Shenandoah University - 31 pts.
13. Ferrum College - 25 pts.