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Things Are Looking Up For Charlotte

Feb 09, 2016 -- 8:01pm

Outside of the Carolina Panthers coming up short in Super Bowl 50, things are looking up for that team that plays basketball inside of Time Warner Cable Arena.

Since Michael Kidd-Gilchrist’s return to the lineup, Charlotte is 4-2 and back to a .500 winning percentage at 26-26.

We’re halfway to the finish line in regards to the regular season and the Charlotte Hornets are just now starting to get healthy. In the month of January, Nic Batum, Cody Zeller, Jeremy Lin and Jeremy Lamb missed multiple games. At one point in January, the Hornets were without four of their top six players in their lineup and somehow managed to keep afloat. We're in February now, MKG is back in the lineup to pair with Batum and there’s a confidence inside the locker room that they’ll make a strong push at the playoffs coming out of All-Star Weekend.

They aren’t quite 100 percent healthy just yet, they're missing one more body needed to be at full strength.

That missing body is Al Jefferson.

Jefferson had surgery to address a tear in the lateral meniscus of his right knee.

“He would give us one of the elite low-post scorers in this league,” coach Steve Clifford addressing the media before Monday’s game against Chicago. “He’s working hard. I think his knee looks stronger than it has all year. And now it’s just a question of the nature of his injury as it’s hard to get a condition level where he is ready to play. He’s working hard and hopefully he will be back soon.”

If what Clifford says is true, I’ll go on the record now and say Charlotte will make the playoffs if Jefferson can return and play at a high level.

“I’ll be honest, even with Mike [Kidd-Gilchrist], you know as you saw, what I planned and what happened were two entirely different things,” said Clifford.” I’m not sure we’ll know until we see him in practice. Like when we come back from the All-Star break, we’ll have a couple days of practice where we will play a lot of contact, up and down the floor, and we can get a better gauge for where he is at.”

The Hornets have yet to play a basketball game with the starting lineup they planned on carrying them to the playoffs in Kemba Walker, Batum, MKG, Zeller and Jefferson and we’re 52 games into the season.

Just think about that for a second.

That leaves Charlotte with 30 games left on the schedule and that’s exactly when Clifford starts to check the standings to see where his team stands.

17 of their final 30 games are on the road.

What’s the importance?

The Hornets are 7-17 outside of TWC Arena. This means in order for them to make the playoffs they’ll have to win some games on the road, something they’ve struggled to do all season.

Excuses are invalid at this point of the season.

Good teams find ways to win on the road and Charlotte doesn’t have many victories in the win column when it comes to taking their act on the road.

In order for Charlotte to keep Batum on the roster, this team including Clifford will have to close the season strong resulting in a playoff appearance. The number to reach is 15 wins, if the Hornets can go .500 to end the season, that should be enough to secure a playoff seed in the Eastern Conference.

When I say a playoff appearance I don’t mean getting swept like the last time this franchise made a playoff appearance in 2013, I mean actually competing.

On paper this is a playoff caliber team, but looking good on paper has never resulted in a win.

It is safe to assume Jefferson will elevate this team’s performance right?

We’ll find out sooner rather than later, the goal of 15 begins tonight in Indiana. The road to the playoffs begins now.

 

Justin Thomas

ESPN 730 Charlotte Hornets Reporter and Blogger

Twitter:  @JTyree704

Facebook:  Facebok.com/SportsFromMyEyes 

Jon Davis believed before anyone else did

Jan 27, 2016 -- 1:54pm

On April 23 of last year a bond was formed, a bond between coach and player that started a new era in Charlotte basketball. Freshman guard Jon Davis was Mark Price’s first acquisition as a head coach for the 49ers. The move is proving to be mutually beneficial for both sides as Davis continues to shine on a young and talented team with enormous potential.

“He will always be that first recruit, always be special in my mind,” said Price. “He took a chance on me and I took a chance on him. We started this thing together and when we get the program to where we want it to be we can both look back and take great pride in that.”

Davis played out his high school career at Clinton Christian in upper Maryland. In 2014, as a senior, he averaged 18 point and 4 assists per contest while earning Conference player of the year and Conference tournament MVP honors. After receiving a plethora of collegiate offers, Davis chose to take his talents to DePaul University. A school that offered him something no other school would at the time; playing time in his first year.

“I had maybe 10 offers from a lot of, so called, major schools like ACC, Big Ten, stuff like that but they all wanted me for 2015. DePaul wanted me for 2014 and at first I didn’t want to do the prep so I thought just take what I can get.”

Davis had a close relationship with an assistant coach from DePaul, which weighed heavily on his decision to commit there. Fate intervened when the same coach was fired. Davis immediately withdrew his decision and landed at Hargrave military prep under decorated head coach A.W Hamilton, who also attended the prep school as a student.

“The fact that he also went to Hargrave he knows the everyday struggle of waking up at six, the daily hassles, going to practice and he’s just a great coach,” said Davis.

So how exactly did Davis come across Charlotte’s radar? Luckily, current assistant coach, Chris Ferguson, spent his last eight years on the coaching staff of Oklahoma State where Davis was scouted a few years back. Ferguson, being in his first year at Charlotte as well, relayed the information to coach Price who then gathered the entire coaching staff to see Davis workout at Hargrave.

“What really got me was the fact that all four of them came to see me workout in Virginia about 10 miles north of Danville, which is in the middle of nowhere,” said Davis who was moved by the effort of the Charlotte coaching staff. “I don’t think any of them ever saw me even play in a game and they offered me a scholarship. That just shows the confidence they had in me.”

Confidence has since grown in the freshman point guard as Price continues to trust Davis with more minutes and a larger role in the 49er offense. Extended play has directly correlated to heightened production as well as the team’s overall success.

Davis just received his second Conference USA Freshman of the Week award following a two game streak where he averaged a staggering 22-points and 6.5 assists per game. He registered 72 minutes of play while shooting 77.3 percent from the field and 72.7 percent from beyond the arc. Davis continues to lace up when the lights shine brightest, currently heading the team in C-USA play for both points and assists, averaging 16.4 points and 5.4 assists per game.

Settling into the point guard role didn’t happen over night for Davis but it hasn’t exactly been a lifelong position for the 6’2 guard either.

“I didn’t start playing point guard, honestly, until last year at Hargrave. That’s the first time I had true point guard responsibilities where I had to run a team,” said Davis. “You got to make sure everyone else is getting involved, you got to worry about defense, you got to set everything up and you also have to worry about doing stuff for yourself. A successful point guard can score the ball, assist, and have great efficiency.”

It also helps that Davis is learning the role from a legend in the basketball community who played point guard through out his 12 year NBA tenure. No doubt Price and Davis will always share that bond for the game, which in turn creates a greater sense of team chemistry and pays dividends on the court. 

“To jump on board first and say hey coach I want to come play for you and obviously playing the position that I played as a player. Our relationship that way as well, we kinda have that bond with each other,” said Price as he cracked a smile.

As far as the future of the Charlotte 49ers, the mood around the locker room is trending upward. Everyone is buying into the system and excited to see what lies ahead. Davis is not the only freshman sporting impressive numbers this year. Guard Andrien White is coming off a 30-point performance in the win over Marshall and is currently second on the team for points per game. Also, in recent weeks, Curran Scott has jumped in the action, averaging 21 points over the last three weeks.

The young talent on this team bodes for success in this program’s near future and Davis would agree. “As far as me, Andrien and Curran, we’ve done a great job of getting better since we came here and I think were all level headed kids who love playing basketball and want to get better.”

 

TJ Sachs

ESPN 730

Twitter: @tsachs22

 

 

 

Charlotte's At The Midway Point

Jan 19, 2016 -- 9:21pm

At the midway point of the NBA season, the Charlotte Hornets are 19-22, 12th in the Eastern Conference and 2 ½ games out of the eighth seed.

I’ve gone back and forth debating whether or not this is a good basketball team or not. We know they can score a lot of points, and sometimes play defense.

I do know there's no debating the value of Michael Kidd-Gilchrist and what he means to this defense. He could possibly return before the season ends.

Yes, Charlotte had to deal with injuries to key contributors in tough spots, but their inconsistency on the defensive end is the reason for shortcomings.

I can sum up the Hornets season for you.

Charlotte started 0-3, turned into one of the surprise stories of the league, playoff whispers began when they reached second in the East, then injuries occurred and the Hornets went on to lose nine of their last 11 games.

This has easily been Steve Clifford’s toughest coaching job and he’s well aware of it.

“I would say generally, and this is an indictment on me, we haven’t made progress, we haven’t played better,” said Clifford. “When you coach, you don’t want to make excuses but you want to look for reasons [the team is not improving]. We have had tough luck with injuries. We have also had injuries at a time where we are in the toughest part of our schedule. The reality is we are just not committed defensively like we need to be.”

That might be Clifford’s best soundbite and most telling of the season.

This team needs to add some sense of urgency.

The fact that the East is no juggernaut is a gift and also a curse. The gift is as bad as they’ve been they can easily string together four or five wins, and be right back in the playoff picture. The curse is because they know that, they try to pick and choose the games they want to show up and play basketball.

“Our problem is we don’t defend. Guys can talk about belief, you don’t play defense it’s hard to believe, to me,” said Clifford.

This team clearly isn’t good enough to be able to decide when they want to play basketball. Charlotte’s last two wins means nothing. The Hornets blew out Atlanta, it was clearly an off night for the Hawks and it took double-overtime for Charlotte to beat a bad Utah Jazz team.

The Hornets show up consistently on the offensive end, but tend to take vacations on the defensive end. There are at least four to five blown assignments for Charlotte when playing defense. You’ll often catch P.J. Hairston or Jeremy Lamb giving up a short corner three-pointer.

But with the news of MKG being cleared by doctors for full-contact practice, is the best news the Hornets have received all season.

There is no timetable for MKG’s return but I have two tentative dates in mind.

If Charlotte can somehow manage to keep their distance of 2 ½ games out of eighth in the Eastern Conference in reach for the next month, they’ll have a full roster for the first time all season for March and April to make playoff push.

At the earliest I can see MKG returning to the hardwood on Feb 19th, the first game out of the All-Star Break. If he’s not ready to go on that date, I can see him and Al Jefferson returning together on March 1st, for Charlotte’s first home game out of the All-Star Break.

Jefferson underwent surgery on Dec 31st to address a tear in the lateral meniscus in his right knee, his recovery and rehabilitation is expected to take approximately six weeks.

March 1st will be Jefferson’s seventh week removed from surgery.

See where I'm going here?

If Charlotte can manage to stay above water, they’ll have MKG and Jefferson avaliable to make a strong push at the playoffs. The Hornets haven’t played much of any defense, so if they continue to slide, that playoff push can become out of reach.

Charlotte will play 22 of their remaining 41 games starting on the road starting in Oklahoma City. The sooner they can get play defense and add their missing pieces the better.

 

Justin Thomas

ESPN 730 Charlotte Hornets Reporter and Blogger

Twitter:  @JTyree704

Facebook:  Facebook.com/SportsFromMyEyes

Head coach Mark Price expresses excitement on emerging young talent

Jan 12, 2016 -- 10:27pm

Following last weeks press conference the 49ers (4-11, C-USA: 1-2) were able to split their last two contests, edging out Southern Miss 82-76 before falling to LA Tech 90-93 in overtime. Both games featured five Charlotte players in double-digit scoring and heavy contributions from standout freshman, Andrien White and Jon Davis. Davis was awarded C-USA freshman of the week, marking the third player for the Niner’s that has received this status on the year.

“Were starting to see a little bit more consistent performance from guys now, we’ve been looking for a rotation all year long and here in the last two games we’ve had more guys play longer minutes and get in a groove out there. Had five guys in double figures, its good to see that and hopefully that will continue,” said head coach Mark Price.

Charlotte begins a four game home stand, hosting Middle Tennessee (10-5, C-USA: 2-1) on Thursday, Jan 14 than bringing in UAB (13-3, C-USA: 3-0) who currently sit atop the conference.

Coach Price spoke on Middle Tennessee stating, “their bigs are two stretch four kind of players and so it will be a challenge for us, particularly Jospeh as they stretch him out on the floor and how we defend them, being able to contain them. Upshaw and Harris are their two leading scorers right now. Both those players like to bring you out on the floor, drive you and shoot the ball.”

Looking at the Middle Tennessee matchup, junior forward Reggie Upshaw leads the Blue Raiders in scoring and field goal percentage, shooting an impressive .568 on the season. The Blue Raiders are 6-1 at home but 2-3 on the road. The overall matchup should be fairly even with MT holding a slight advantage in field goal and three point percentage. However Charlotte’s center Joseph Uchebo leads both teams in rebounds per contest and will have to play a big role if the Niners hope to win. Uchebo is coming off a career high 20-rebound performance against LA Tech, while tacking on 18 points in the close loss.

Price spoke highly of his big man, “Our young guys are continuing to grow and Joseph Uchebo has been great inside for us and has been a warrior all year long. As most of our other big guys are getting hurt and injured here and there, he keeps holding the fort down and protecting the paint for us and letting our young guys continue to grow.”

Following Middle Tennessee the 49ers will gear up to face a lengthy UAB team that likes to get up and down the court. Charlotte will need a hot hand from veteran gaurd Braxton Ogbueze who has proven to be the only consistent three-point shooter on the team and has found his stroke here in the second half of the season. If Uchebo and Ogbueze can set an example for the young talent Charlotte possesses it can bode well for a team that is right on the edge of being a force in the conference.  

Price spoke on Ogbueze’s leadership and determination, “although he didn’t shoot the ball great early in the year, I think the transition of playing with so many new players and trying to figure out what his role was going to be this year. But he’s just continued to lead vocally in practices and really talks to the young guys a lot and it’s really starting to come together.”

TJ Sachs

ESPN 730

Mark Price earns first C-USA win over Southern Miss, 82-76

Jan 08, 2016 -- 10:20am

After starting the year 1-8, featuring a six game losing streak, the Charlotte 49ers (4-10, C-USA: 1-1) reeled off three wins in their last five matchups to turn a dismal season into a salvageable one. Thursday marked coach Mark Price’s first conference USA victory as the 49ers edged out Southern Miss (3-10, C-USA: 0-2), 82-76. Freshman guard Jon Davis, who recorded a game high 18 points, led the Niner’s in scoring. Everyone contributed in the win with five Charlotte players reaching double figures.

"I was proud of our guys," Charlotte 49ers coach Mark Price said. "We fought back and played through some issues like 15 missed free throws. We still were able to win the game. I was really proud of the way our guys played. Two teams that were hungry to get a win. I was proud of our guys for playing hard for 40 minutes."

Davis accounted for 16 of his 18 points in the second half alone tacking on five assists in the contest. Braxton Ogbueze, who’s coming off to slower weeks, found his shot as well registering 17 points and connecting on three three-pointers. Ogbueze also dished out six assists. Junior forward Anthony Vanhook joined the party posting a season high 16 points to go along with seven boards.

Rather than a famous slow start and a gradual comeback, the 49ers jumped out to an early 15-4 lead with 12:14 left in the first half. Charlotte maintained the gap over the next five minutes before Southern Miss broke the levy and banded together a 22-5 run taking the lead 26-20 with 6:41 to go in the half.

Vanhook would hit a big three with 4:04 on the clock to come within one, 29-28. But the Golden Eagles finished strong and held the lead at half, 36-31.

Charlotte came out of the locker room cold, falling behind 45-36 with 17:01 on the clock. Davis knocked down a three point jumper on Charlottes next possession, which sparked a 10-0 run, Ogbueze, Joseph Uchebo and Vanhook all contributed during the 49ers run to take the lead 46-45.

The turning point came with 6:23 on the clock when Davis completed a three-point play giving the 49ers the lead for the last time 60-59. After a couple jumpers from Ogbueze and Uchebo, Charlotte would not look back, capping off the contest with free throws.

The Niners conclude their Conference USA season-opening three-game road trip at Louisiana Tech, Saturday January 9 at 7 pm.

 

T.J Sachs

ESPN 730

 

Mark Price on Charlotte’s recent success and a preview of what’s to come

Jan 06, 2016 -- 12:48am

Head Coach of Charlotte men’s basketball, Mark Price, held a press conference Tuesday holding a different tone than in previous weeks. The Charlotte 49ers (3-10), despite the sub par record, are trending upward winning two of their last four and nearly edging out a nailbiter with Georgetown.

“For the most part, I feel defensively has been our biggest improvement overall, guys are really starting to understand how we want to play defensively and were coming together as a team that way,” said Price on how the team has improved since the 10 day break.

Price’s theory holds true, seeing that through Charlottes first four games opponents averaged 91.5 PPG and in the last four matchups teams are averaging just 71.5 PPG.

The Niners are coming off a hard fought loss in their Conference USA opener against fourth ranked Old Dominion, 74-65. Freshman guard Andrien White had 22 of his game high 27 points in the second half. White was named Conference USA freshman of the week for the second time this season. For the week, White averaged 23.5 points per game and shot 61 percent from three. Coach Price spoke highly of White in the press conference.

“He’s one of those that just continues to get better and better. I was happy for him to get freshman of the week, he deserved it and he’s just improved by leaps and bounds.” Said Price. “I really like the improvement all of our freshman are making but Andrien has really stepped it up to another level.”

Price continued about Whites work ethic, “It’s the confidence level that he has, physically he’s ready to step in and play at the college level. He probably works as hard or harder than anybody we have on his own and puts in extra time. That’s when you start seeing stuff pay off.”

Whites emergence proves to be perfect timing for a 49ers organization that has been let down all year from high expectations and broken promises. Price said it best following a loss to Campbell four weeks ago claiming, “everyone looks forward to playing us,” and that there has to be a change in effort along with defensive intensity to start a game.

Charlotte now faces a stretch of conference play that will extend nine straight weeks and offers a golden opportunity to showcase Charlotte true place in C-USA. After starting the string of matchups against Old Dominion last week the 49ers now hit the road again to take on Southern Miss (3-9), Thursday Jan 7.

The Goldent Eagles are led by leading scorers, Kourtlin Jackson (SR) and Khari Price (JR); both scoring significantly less than Charlottes top weapons in White and Braxton Ogbueze. Southern Miss is averaging a measly 57 PPG and pose the perfect opportunity for Charlotte to continue executing solid defense and tack on their first conference win.

Following the Southern Miss matchup the 49ers run in to some hefty competition, visiting Louisiana Tech (12-2) then hosting Middle Tennessee (8-5) and UAB (11-3). LA Tech’s highlight of the year came back in late November with a win over Ohio State, in Ohio, 82-74. Senior Guard, Alex Hamilton, leads the Bulldogs in scoring accounting for 252 of LA’s points compared to White’s team leading 147 for Charlotte. However, Hamilton is currently sporting a .226 percentage from beyond the arc and the 49ers have the size in Joseph Uchebo, 6’10, and Benas Griciunas, 7’1, to limit a guard in the paint. Charlotte also has a better shooting percentage as a team from beyond the arc and will more than likely lean on that aspect of the game heavily in their matchup.

The 49ers are regrouping and look to change their fortune after a nightmare first half of the season. Both the players and coach Price appear to have a new sense of hope and confidence heading forward which they will need for a tough string of games in the near future.

 

TJ Sachs

ESPN 730

 

 

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