After posting its first winning season in five years, the Paine men’s basketball team is trying to take the next step.
Coach Jimmy Link is bringing in four transfers and a high school senior to bolster his lineup, which includes nine returning lettermen off last season’s 14-12 campaign. When play begins in November, the Lions will look to make a run at claiming its first Southern Intercollegiate Athletic Conference regular season title since 1994.
“I’m trying to win the thing,” Link said. “We’re definitely going to go hard at it.”
The recruiting class is highlighted by a pair of front-court players with Division I experience in Toby Veal (Virginia Commonwealth) and Jerel Stephenson (UNC Wilmington). After playing at Colorado, Northwest Florida State and VCU, Veal will play his final college season at Paine. Veal saw time for the Rams when they advanced to the 2011 Final Four. When VCU upset No. 1 Kansas in the Elite Eight, Veal had six points and five rebounds in 16 minutes.
The 6-foot-7, 245-pound Veal, who played high school basketball in Savannah, Ga., enrolled at Paine in January and will be eligible after fall exams – after the Lions’ third game of the season. He will play power forward and center.
“He’s got a motor on him,” Link said. “He knows the game. He’s strong. He’s got unbelievable post moves. He’s a freak.”
Stephenson, a 6-5, 220-pound forward who has two years of eligibility left, is another major pickup for the Lions. The former Glenn Hills standout – the Georgia Class AAA Player of the Year in 2007 – played at UNC Wilmington for one year before transferring to Aiken Tech. He sat out a year before entering Paine, where he will also join the team after fall exams.
Link also added incoming freshman Sean Morgan, of Marietta. Morgan (6-6, 240) averaged 22 points, 12 rebounds and three blocks a game at Walton High School.
Junior guard Adrian Caldwell (6-0, 185) is transferring in from Bossier Parrish Community College. He averaged 30.1 points a game his senior year of high school in Louisiana. In his sophomore season at Bossier Parrish, he averaged 10.4 points and 3.8 assists a game.
Paine also is adding Arnis Libazs, of Latvia. Libazs (6-8, 235) played at a prep school in Arizona before attending Division II Mercyhurst where he saw limited action in one season.
“That’s a pretty good class, I think,” Link said. “I thought we needed some more size. With these big guys, this will leave our shooters open.”