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Braves establish themselves as winners

By Nick Phillips

March 29, 2012

Photo by Mindy Hubbard
Nate Priest lays up a ball against Coker earlier this season.

In what head coach Ben Miller called an "interesting year," the UNCP men's basketball team finished the 2011-2012 seeason with a 17-12 overall record that ended in the quarterfinals of the Peach Belt Conference Tournament at the beginning of March.

A couple of seasons ago that would have qualified as a fantastic season. After last year's run to the PBC Tournament Championship game and the program's first trip to the NCAA Tournament, this season ended earlier than the Braves wanted.

"I know all the guys weren't happy with how we finished at the end of the season. As competitors, there's really only one team that's going to be happy at the end of the year," Miller said.

"We felt we were good enough to be able to compete with anyone in the league and we showed that. We just couldn't quite get over the hump in a couple key games," he added.

The Braves will graduate four seniors Marcus Heath, Nate Priest, Mike Robinson and Miguel Starkey all guys that Miller said have left their marks on the program, helping turn around a program that won just six games four years ago.

"Those guys definitely built the foundation," Miller said.

"We are really proud of the people they have become and how they have matured. Basketball-wise, they should feel really good about what they were a part of. We told them that if we are fortunate enough to cut down some nets in the future, that those guys were a huge part of our success," Miller added.

Looking ahead to next year, the Braves will return three of their four leading scorers in Shahmel Brackett, K.J. Cooper and George Blakeney, who all averaged double digits this season and will be a part of another strong senior class in 2012- 2013.

"We will be fortunate to return four starters, as well as K.J. Cooper who has started in the past and also plays big minutes for us," Miller said.
Photo by Mindy Hubbard
Junior Shahmel Brackett goes for a layup against Flagler.
Miller also spoke highly of freshmen Griffin Pittman and Ben Jacobs, who each started most of the season.

Jacobs averaged 9.0 points and 5.0 rebounds a game in his first campaign, while Pittman helped run the offense and averaged 5.8 points per game and added 2.6 assists and 2.1 rebounds per game as well.

"We have a great nucleus of talent coming back, as well as an influx of new talent our fans haven't even seen yet," Miller said.

With his first graduating class now weeks away, Miller wasn't quite ready to label himself as an "established" coach in the PBC a league full of great coaches.

"We all learn along the way and make mistakes, and I've made my fair share," he said.

One thing is certain for next year. The Braves have now established themselves as perennial contenders and showed that they weren't "one-year wonders," and their names are now in the 'contenders' list and not the bottom half of the league.

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Updated: Thursday, April 12, 2012
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