A new face in Division III

Centenary (La.) has had three conferences in three years, but is finally settling down in Division III.
Centenary athletics file photo

In northwestern Louisiana, one of the newest newcomers to the Division III world finds itself still transitioning after seasons of transition. From a trying final year in Division I to the American Southwest Conference in its first season at Division III to a new and long-term spot in the Southern Collegiate Athletic Conference, the basketball programs at Centenary College are finally finding a new normal.

Granted, we will see neither the Gents nor the Ladies in a NCAA Division III Tournament bracket until 2014-15, at the earliest. In the meantime, the leaders of both programs are building toward prospective postseason appearances, starting with successfully selling their vision on the recruiting trail.

“You're selling to the kids the first couple of years are going to be tough in terms of what we can and cannot do,” said Kristen Davis, Centenary's third-year women's coach. “We're recruiting the right kind of kids, they are still push themselves every day to win the conference (regular-season title), win the conference tournament.”

None of these transitions go smoothly. Although Birmingham-Southern has found its way after moving from Division I to Division III, its move came accompanied with the expected growing pains: players’ transfers and having to incorporate almost entirely new rosters to begin playing basketball in a whole new world.

Adam Walsh, the Gents' third-year men's coach, endured a Division I transitional phase while coaching at Texas A&M-Corpus Christi, so he had some semblance of what to expect. This is not to say the past few years have proven to be entirely seamless: Centenary went 1-24 in its final Division I season as members of the Summit League, then finished 11-11 in its first Division III campaign last winter with 12 newcomers filling virtually its entire roster.

This season, the Centenary men are off to a 5-2 start, its lone losses coming against Division I McNeese State and new SCAC rival Trinity (Texas). The Gents can earn spots on the all-conference honor roll, potentially capture the league's regular-season title, and maybe even capture their first-ever conference tournament championship.

Before dreaming so big, however, Walsh is still trying to develop a foundation that includes the backcourt of high-scoring junior guard Jonathan Blount (24.5 points per game), sophomore Caden Cheramie (10.9 points, 4.9 rebounds) and junior Jairus Browning (5.7 points, 3.9 rebounds), as well as promising 6-6 rookie forward Brett Bell (7.3 points, 8.9 rebounds).

Not to mention become acclimated with a season of getting acclimated to the SCAC where, in a scheduling quirk brought about by the league only having six teams, the Gents will play each of their five rivals three times this season. (Schreiner and Texas Lutheran will join in 2013-14, meaning each program will play conference opponents twice apiece.)

“I think it'll take us another year or so before we really feel like we have some solid stability because hopefully a year from now we're go to know and understand all the parts of the conference: the travel, the different dynamics, travel partners, all the good stuff that comes with being in a conference,” Walsh said.

Much like Walsh, Davis has dealt with difficult times during Centenary's transition although she admitted that the Lady Gents' last year in Division I before headed to their new home “would just be a tough year.” Indeed, in her first season on Centenary's sideline, her squad went 1-24 before improving to 8-17 with a revamped roster in 2011-12.

Vashni Sharp-Moore has been at Centenary since the Division I days and stuck it out through the transition.
Centenary athletics file photo

Although the Lady Gents are only 1-6 headed into Friday's game with crosstown rival LSU-Shreveport, they are coming off a 74-66 victory over LeTourneau after losing their previous six games by an average of 32.5 points. A modest accomplishment in the short term, but tangible progress nonetheless.

Davis has sold her vision of competing for championships now and NCAA play in 2014-15 to both returnees and recruits. Senior Vashni Sharp-Moore (18.1 points, 6.6 rebounds) sets an exemplary example on and off the floor, while Davis believes sophomore guard Dionecia Warr (15.9 points, 6.1 rebounds) and freshman forward Brianna Edwards (7.9 points, 10.3 rebounds) could be the focal points of a team that competes for the SCAC's automatic bids two winters from now.

“We're recruiting the right kind of kids,” Davis said, “they are still pushing themselves every day to win the conference, win the conference tournament.”

Even without a chance to play in the NCAA Tournament, Centenary's men's and women's programs are transitioning toward that day when they can become a part of March Madness.

“I think we're seeing a big change and a big statement being made by our kids right now across the board,” Walsh said. “They're here to play, they're going to play as hard as they can.”

A new and improved Woodmore

With the release of this week's D3hoops.com Top 25, the Virginia Wesleyan men find themselves in the semi-familiar position of sitting atop our poll. That’s a nice perk accompanying the Marlins' early-season success, although the biggest development out of Virginia Beach, Va., may be turning junior All-American D.J. Woodmore into a more selfish player.

Although his scoring is up just a tick over last season's pace (16.2 points this year, 16.1 in 2011-12), it is the method by which the 6-3 shooting guard is going about getting his points compared to his first two seasons that impresses coach Dave Macedo. He is shooting career bests of 47.8 percent from the floor and 46.2 from beyond the 3-point arc.

"We knew he'd be an impact player from Day One. But he was always such a team player," said Macedo, recalling how he told Woodmore straight up: "We don't need you taking a backseat. We need you to push the envelope."

D.J. Woodmore, once the D3hoops.com Rookie of the Year, is a junior and leads the top-ranked team in the nation.
File photo

Across his first two seasons and the first six games this year at Virginia Wesleyan, Woodmore certainly did not take a backseat on the stat sheet. The problem, if one cares to call it that, is a willingness to defer when someone with the junior's formidable talent should be dominating.

After a two-point performance against Roanoke on Nov. 28, Woodmore responded by dropping 25 on Frostburg State and 22 more at Lynchburg, the latter performance pushing him past 1,000 points one game after senior Chris Teasley reached the millennium mark himself.

Perhaps motivation came from the Marlins' unceremonious exit from the Elite Eight in March, a 76-62 loss to eventual national champion UW-Whitewater that sparked an offseason of refocus in the weight room. More than the added muscle, the difference has shown itself in all Woodmore does these days.

"He's become more of a vocal leader," Macedo said. "I think the biggest thing is him staying in attack mode."

As usual, the Marlins possess plenty of talent, starting with Woodmore's backcourt mates in Teasley (15.8 points, 5.0 rebounds, 50.0 FG%, 44.4 3FG%) and senior guard Tre' Ford (9.0 points, 4.0 rebounds, 3.8 assists), not to mention senior forward Chris Astorga (13.7 points, 5.7 rebounds).

However, for Virginia Wesleyan to reach its ultimate goal of finishing the season hoisting another Walnut and Bronze trophy — its first since 2006 — they will need Woodmore to continue his progression.

"We need him to be at his very best at times to deliver a knockout blow," Macedo said. "He's capable of doing that. He needs to assume that role."

Bard women on the upswing

Tytravia Riley had 18 points and 19 rebounds against Elms, which made the 2012 NCAA Tournament and beat Bard that season by 40.
Bard athletics photo

Sarah Lombard is overseeing a renaissance with the Bard women's basketball program. Disregard Tuesday's loss to the Albany College of Pharmacy — the Raptors won their first five games for the first time ever, already matching their victory total from the previous two seasons combined (4-21 in 2010-11, 1-24 in 2010-11).

The biggest difference? “No. 1 is our recruiting,” Lombard said. “We have a tremendous freshman class so that is the biggest difference.”

Along with junior guard Victoria Fleisher (10.5 points), the rookie inside-outside duo of forward Tytravia “Tootie” Riley (19.3 points, 17.0 rebounds) and point guard Bianka Bell (8.7 points, 5.7 rebounds, 4.5 assists) are establishing winning ways within a program not known for victories.

Lombard came across Riley, a native of the Bahamas, late last spring after placing a call to the coach at Miami's Gulliver Prep. A few conversations and a campus visit later, and Bard landed a dominant low-post present who just grabbed a school-record 30 rebounds and scored 26 points.

“It worked out very well,” Lombard said. “She's in our pre-med program so she's not only athletically stellar, but she's also academically stellar. She wants to be an anesthesiologist.”

Meanwhile, Lombard was in on Bell for more than a year before her floor general arrived in Annandale-on-Hudson, N.Y. Against an Elms squad that employed a full-court press the Raptors will see often when competition escalates during Liberty League, Bell overcame a 1-for-10 shooting performance to contribute nine assists against just three turnovers across 40 minutes of a 65-56 victory.

“Without her in any of the games we've played so far, we wouldn't have won any of them,” Lombard said.

“We're hoping to build off the last few games with Bianka,” the coach continued. “I think she will be a very calm, cool and collected leader for us, even as a freshman.”

Ryan Scot

Ryan Scott serves as the lead columnist for D3hoops.com and previously wrote the Mid-Atlantic Around the Region column in 2015 and 2016. He's a long-time D-III basketball supporter and former player currently residing in Middletown, Del., where he serves as a work-at-home dad, doing freelance writing and editing projects. He has written for multiple publications across a wide spectrum of topics. Ryan is a graduate of Eastern Nazarene College.
Previous columnists:
2014-16: Rob Knox
2010-13: Brian Falzarano
2010: Marcus Fitzsimmons
2008-2010: Evans Clinchy
Before 2008: Mark Simon