Building on their surprising run in the NCAA tournament last season, the Bulldogs of UNC Asheville head into this season as the favorites in the Big South Conference. The Dogs are led by conference Pre-Season Player of the Year, senior guard Matt Dickey (Trussville, AL). They will open their new on-campus facility, Kimmel Arena, Sunday, Nov. 13 against the number one team in the country, the UNC Tar Heels.
Dickey’s backcourt mate, senior guard J.P. Primm (Dickson, TN), was named to the BSC Pre-Season All Conference first team as well. Dickey is the first Bulldog player to be selected as the Big South Pre-Season Player of the Year since Andre Smith earned the honor prior to the 2002-03 season.
This also marks the first time since the 2002-03 season the Bulldogs have been selected to win the conference title. That season, Asheville finished fifth in the regular season, but captured the tournament championship to go to their first-ever NCAA Tournament.
Head coach Eddie Biedenbach enters his 16th season, “and the build-up for this season is the most I have ever seen. With returnees we have back, the success we had last year and our new arena, there are plenty of reasons to be excited about the season,” stated Biedenbach, the Big South’s all-time winningest coach. “However, our guys know it took a tremendous amount of effort and sacrifice to accomplish what we did last season,” he added. “We’re going to need that kind of effort and even more this year. UNC Asheville will have a target on its back from day one, but I believe our guys understand that and welcome the opportunity to win another championship.”
Dickey enjoyed a breakout season last year. He led Asheville in scoring (15.7 ppg) and three-pointers made (65) and was second in assists (111) and steals (64). He earned first-team All-Conference honors and was named Big South Tournament MVP. He captivated the country with his clutch plays and shots. Dickey had a steal and a three-pointer at the buzzer to give the Bulldogs a win at Coastal Carolina late in the season, 61-58. He knocked down a clutch trey late in the Big South Tournament championship game leading the Dogs to the victory over the top-seeded Chanticleers. He also hit a three-point shot with just 10 seconds left against Arkansas-Little Rock in the first round of the NCAA Tournament game to tie the game and allow the Dogs to win in overtime.
Coach Biedenbach was happy for Dickey to get some pre-season recognition. “Matt has a great work ethic and a tremendous desire to get better and that’s what drives great players,” he said. “He’s quicker and more athletic than you realize. Matt just has a knack for scoring and can do it in a variety of ways.”
Biedenbach was also happy for Primm to get some recognition. “J.P. is a strong, tough player who has worked hard at getting stronger and quicker. He plays hard both offensively and defensively,” stated the coach. “J.P. is always striving to get better and we’ve seen that every year with him.”
Primm also enjoyed a tremendous junior season. He led Asheville with 154 assists and set a single-season record for steals with 71. He was second in scoring (14.6 ppg) and three-pointers made (55). He earned second-team All-Conference honors and made the All-Tournament team. Primm was outstanding in Asheville’s two NCAA Tournament games, scoring 22 points against UALR and 14 against Pitt in the second round before getting injured.
Asheville’s season will begin with an exhibition game against Lees-McRae on Nov. 7. They open the regular season at Biedenbach’s Alma Mater, North Carolina State on Friday, Nov. 11. Two days later, Asheville plays its first official game in the 3,200 seat Kimmel Arena against Asheville-native, Coach Roy Williams, and his top-ranked Tar Heels. The Heels open their season on Friday, Nov. 11, playing Michigan State on an aircraft carrier in San Diego, before flying back to the East Coast for the game at Kimmel. The game will be televised nationally on ESPNU, starting at 4:00 p.m. Eastern time.
The Bulldogs will be missing a key part of their championship team this season. Due to knee surgery, 6’10” center, D.J. Cunningham will be medically redshirted and unavailable to play. They do return four starters from last year’s 20-14 team. In addition to Dickey and Primm, seniors Chris Stephenson, a 6’3″ guard from Punta Gorda, FL and Quinard Jackson, a 6’5″ forward from the other side of the Sunshine State (West Palm Beach) return to the Dogs. A very solid recruiting class is expected to lend some depth to the team. That depth will be necessary if the team is to win the newly-expanded Big South Conference. The league brought an old member back into the fold this fall, as Campbell University (Buies Creek, NC) re-joined the now-11 team league.
One of the most exciting returning players is Jaron Lane, a 6’4″ junior guard from Greenville, NC. Lane has tremendous moves to the basket and the ability to take over a game on a minute’s notice. He did that several times last season, and has a chance to be a special player for the Dogs.
Other returnees include local favorite, 5’10” redshirt junior guard Madison Davis (Waynesville, NC) ; redshirt sophomore guard Josh Seligson (6’3″ from Raleigh, NC); Chudier Pal, a 6’9″ sophomore center from Rockingham, Australia; redshirt junior Jeremy Harn, a 6’8″ forward from Chapel Hill, NC and Trent Meyer, a 6’2″sophomore guard from Ft. Lauderdale, FL.
Jon Nwannunu, who suffered a knee injury early last season, returns and appears to be in great shape. The 6’8″ junior from Merrillville, IN, could provide some inside muscle the Dogs are lacking with Cunningham being on the shelf this season.
The incoming freshman class includes Thomas Bess, a 6’0″ guard from Bessemer City, NC; Corey Littlejohn, a 6’3″ guard from Columbia, SC, and Jaleel Roberts, a 7’0″ center from Evans, GA.
In the first event held in Kimmel Arena, “Dunkin’ in the Doghouse”, fans had a chance to meet some of the new recruits, and were impressed. 6’4″ freshman guard, Keith Hornsby, from Williamsburg, VA, a graduate of national power Oak Hill Academy (and son of Grammy Award winner Bruce Hornsby) surprised everyone by easily winning the slam-dunk competition. Hornsby will be called upon to provide a spark to the offense.
Another new recruit, Jeremy (Big Country) Atkinson, is a 6’4″ forward out of Louisburg College. The junior also will be called upon to provide some inside presence.
The Bulldogs relish the opportunity to play big teams like UNC this year. In addition to the Heels and the Wolfpack, Asheville will be playing in the Battle 4 Atlantis, a premier tournament held over Thanksgiving at the Paradise Island resort. Their opening round opponent is the defending national champions, the Connecticut Huskies. Their second-round opponent could be the College of Charleston or UCF (Central Florida). Should things work out, the Dogs could end up facing Florida State in the final game.
Following their return to the states, the Bulldogs will also be travelling to Knoxville, TN to play the Tennessee Volunteers in December. Two years ago, the Vols handed the then-young Dogs a 75 point defeat, a fact that those who played in that game remember well. The team also has a return game in the ESPNU Bracketbusters Saturday, February 18. They will travel to a yet-to-be-determined opponent’s facility as last year they played host to Northeastern University.
Overall, the Bulldogs will host the best team in the nation in the newest arena in the country…and are primed to be the top team in the Big South Conference. I had the team over to my home in early October for a barbeque and each person said they are motivated by having won a ring last season…and know it will take even more work this season to get another. They have worked hard all summer and during the fall…let the games begin.