Devon Wright-Nelson knows all about Augusta State’s season-opening opponent, Bowie State.
As a youngster, he spent plenty of time at the school – in the cafeteria, in the dorms, in the gym – shadowing his older brother, Donte, a former guard with the Bulldogs. Wright-Nelson almost joined Bowie State, but he decided to become a Jaguar.
“I always wanted to be there because I always looked up to him,” the sophomore forward said. “I wanted to hang around him all the time.”
When Wright-Nelson and his teammates take to the Christenberry Fieldhouse floor at 7:30 tonight, Donte will be in attendance. He’ll watch his alma mater try to snap a three-game skid, while Augusta State will try to return to its dominant days.
Last season, the Jaguars finished 17-11 – an off year for a program that won 27 or more games each of the previous four seasons. Augusta State, which still finished second in the Peach Belt Conference East Division, underwent its first true rebuilding season under coach Dip Metress (325-155 in 16 seasons overall, 191-62 in eight seasons at Augusta State), seeing its run of 65 consecutive weeks ranked – the fifth-best stretch in Division II history – snapped. The Jaguars also watched their run of five consecutive Division II postseason appearances end.
“Last year they were young and needed more experience,” said junior guard Ryan Weems, a transfer from Broward Community College. “They weren’t as deep. This year, the fact that we added more pieces makes us that much better. We’re deep in every position.”
Augusta State returns four starters, including senior center Travis Keels, junior forward Harold Doby and sophomore forwards Devonte Thomas and Wright-Nelson. The team is still young – 10 of the 15 on the roster are underclassmen – but Metress added several key pieces to the puzzle.
Augusta State made a big splash in the off-season by landing highly-coveted center Chad July, a senior transfer from Flagler. The 6-foot-9, 245-pound July, fourth in the league last season with an 8.5 rebounding average, will give the Jaguars a true center. Last year, Augusta State ranked last in the league in rebounding.
“He gives us a presence down low,” Metress said. “The one thing he does is rebound. Even when he’s having a bad practice, he rebounds. That’s a huge step for us.”
Augusta State, which ranked 12th of 13 teams in league scoring last season, also is expected to make strides on offense, with the maturity of Wright-Nelson (team-best 14.2 points a game), the Peach Belt Freshman of the Year last season, Thomas (71 3-pointers) and point guard D’Angelo Boyce (92 assists). Also, July gives the team a scorer in the paint and Weems provides another 3-point threat.
“One of the things we needed to address this year was the ability to make a shot,” Metress said. “We struggled last year at taking shots.”
With this new-look squad, Augusta State has high hopes. Wright-Nelson is hoping his team gets off to a good start for personal reasons.
“I don’t want to lose because I don’t want to hear anything from (Donte),” Wright-Nelson said. “He’s going to be pulling for me, but he’s going to wear his Bowie jersey.”