Tennessee State University men’s basketball is in the midst of a revival, two consecutive winning seasons and berths in the OVC Tournament, but the real goal is still in sight. The Tigers still seek their first NCAA Tournament appearance since 1994, they must replace three starters from last season’s 17-13 outfit, but the overall strength of the program only is getting better.
Dana Ford embarks on year four as coach having won 37 games the past two seasons, this after a down period for the Big Blue. The 20-win campaign of two years ago was ahead of schedule, last season’s record was more expected, forecasts seem all over the map for this year’s Tigers but it is clear they are on the right path.
While technically two starters return, there are a full five with quality starting experience from a season ago led by Christian Mekowulu and leading returning scorer Darreon Reddick. Delano Spencer and Ken’Darrius Hamilton join Reddick as three expected to provide the scoring punch for this squad. In all, 47% of the scoring from last season returns, and 47% of the minutes this season will come from newcomers, a difficult equation for success.
But the program is getting stronger, so the newcomers, including two D-I transfers, 4 JUCO transfers and one freshman, will be counted on to produce. One of those JUCOs, Kamar McKnight, figures in the backcourt rotation. Two others in Stokley Chaffee and DaJion Henderson will provide frontcourt help. The freshman, guard David Morris, was a finalist for Mr. Basketball in Pennsylvania and could translate as an elite shooter. A.C. Reid comes from Liberty as a graduate transfer and Donte Fitzpatrick-Dorsey arrives from Ole Miss.
One thing these newcomers will no doubt provide is roster versatility; multiple guys can play multiple spots.
“In the past we’ve been more of a checkers team, you can’t do a lot on a checkerboard. But now what we try to do in recruiting is go out and find some chess pieces, some guys we can move around and do some different things.” Coach Ford said.
Ford hopes to establish a solid nine-man rotation by conference play, forged through the rigors of the typically stout non-conference slate. The Tigers open at venerable Allen Fieldhouse against #3 Kansas, see Middle Tennessee come to Gentry, and have back-to-back trips to Texas and Purdue before Christmas. They finish with two meetings against Belmont in the last six games, including the February 24th closer at Curb. The OVC Tournament moves to Evansville, IN, this season.
Overall the state of Tigers Basketball is improving though clear results may not be readily apparent this season. Much will fall on unproven talent and while that can be a liability it can also be strength, and make for an exciting season should they all come together. Most see TSU as middle-of-the-pack this season, but the foundation continues to be built for the future.