SEASON PREVIEW: Royals Still Runnin Under New Leadership

Senior Xavier McCants has the ability to be a difference maker on both ends of the floor. (photo by Scott Eyre)
Senior Xavier McCants has the ability to be a difference maker on both ends of the floor. (photo by Scott Eyre)

For the first time since 2003, there has been a change on the sidelines for EMU men's basketball.

While the Royals will still maintain their "Runnin" moniker with long-time assistant Melvin Felix taking over the reins, the change on the floor in the short term might be more pronounced as the team lost four starters and 61% of their scoring (including two 1,000-point scorers).

To make some noise in the ultra-competitive Old Dominion Athletic Conference, EMU's men will need last year's promising role players to flourish as they expand their game in 2018-19.

Record in 2017-18: 12-15 (5-11 ODAC)
Coach: Melvin Felix (1st season as head coach after 7 seasons as the assistant coach at EMU)

Season opener in 2018-19:
- exhibition at D-I James Madison on Tuesday, Nov. 6 at 7:00pm. The official season opener is at Averett on Thursday, Nov. 8.
Other season highlights:
- host EMU Tip-Off Invitational on November 16 & 17, featuring Bridgewater, No. 16 New Jersey City, and Mount Aloysius
- host Wilson on Tuesday, Nov. 20, before playing their next 7 games away from Yoder Arena
- play at Don Glick Classic at Bridgewater on Dec. 15 & 16
- open second semester with three home ODAC games, starting January 2 against Shenandoah
- host five doubleheaders with the EMU basketball women
- celebrate Senior Recognition in their home finale against Randolph-Macon on Saturday, Feb. 16

Stats to watch this season:
- guard Travis Clower (46.1 % - 65-141) is within range of Gary Chupp's program record for career three-point field goal percentage (47.0% - 294-626). Clower already owns the EMU record for season three-point field goal percentage from the 2016-17 season (58.5% - 31-53)
- center Sammy Thomas needs 202 rebounds to enter the EMU Top 20 list for Career Rebounds


SID: How would you recap 2017-18 in a couple of sentences, and how does that play into your team for this fall?

MF: The 2017-18 season was a special season since it was Kirby Dean's last season as the head coach. We started a little slow losing some tough close games. It culminated with a great run in the ODAC Tournament with us being 20 seconds from playing for the ODAC title.

SID: You lost a huge senior class.  How will you replace them, both in play and leadership?

MF: I am pretty lucky that I get the opportunity to replace our five seniors from last season with an even bigger class of seven. This year's seniors will have to take on the role of being leaders on and off the floor. In play, we will replace last year's seniors with a mix of upperclassmen and underclassmen.

SID: Obviously, there is the big change in leadership as well this year.  What differences do you see between yourself and your predecessor/mentor, Kirby Dean?

MF: Any time there is a change in leadership there will be an adjustment period, but being under Coach Dean for seven years, I think there will be more similarities than differences. The only difference I can see is our players adjusting to a different personality and coaching style.

SID: Who are your key returners and what roles do you expect them to play this year?

MF: Some of our key returners are Sammy Thomas, Travis Clower and Xavier McCants, they are very crucial to our success this season because they have the most experience on the team. From Sammy this year I expect a guy that will be a force in the paint on both ends, affecting the game with scoring in the paint and controlling the glass. Travis will be most dangerous threat from the three-point line and the vocal leader of the team. From Xavier, I expect an athletic guard that will create havoc on the defensive end, and on the offensive end, he will put pressure on the defense because of his quickness and ability to get to the rim.

SID: Tell me a bit about your incoming recruiting class.  First an over-arching comment on the group as a whole, and then mention a few individuals and what roles they might play in their first year?

MF: As a whole, I am excited with our incoming freshman class. We were able to bring a class that includes all the positions except for the center position. They are a hard-working, gritty bunch on the floor and in the classroom. They include Kobi Alexander, who is a very versatile player who can play on the perimeter and in the post. Another is Devin Beckner a hard-nosed, tough point guard on both ends of the floor. Chris Simmons is a forward who brings great energy and relentlessly attacks the glass for rebounds. Mizz Nyagwegwe, Trajon Brown, Myles Crawley and Walter Staples Jr. are those "D and 3" guys, they have the ability to become good defenders and on the offensive end they will shoot the three at a good rate. 

SID: What sort of a learning curve are you expecting from a relatively young team?

MF: I think that the learning curve with a new head coach and losing four starters from last season will be steady but not fast. We will have a lot of guys playing that have not played together that much; you add that they have to adjust to a new head coach and it can be expected for the guys to take some time to learn and adjust.

SID: What can fans expect out of a Melvin Felix-led EMU team?

MF: The fans can expect an Attacking Team that will push tempo and play fast, an Unselfish Team that will sacrifice and play for each other on both ends, and ultimately an Efficient Team that will play to its strengths and work on improving their weakness every day.

SID: What will the strengths of your team be this season?

MF: Our focus this year will be to improve daily on the defensive end and to attack the glass aggressively on both ends. We will have most of our experience coming back in the 4 and 5 spots, so we will look to generate offense from the inside out.

SID: Overall general feeling of what 2018-19 will be for your team?

MF: I think this season will be an exciting one because we have new guys stepping into new roles, we will have new leading scores, rebounders, etc. and after the success we had last season in the ODAC Tournament we are hungry to get back there and do something like it again.