Abilene Christian University men’s basketball coach Joe Golding has been pointing toward this season for several years.
After the difficult four-year transition which the Wildcats concluded in 2016-17 by finishing 13-16 overall and 7-11 in the Southland Conference, ACU went 16-16 overall and 8-10 in conference play last year in its first year of postseason eligibility, ending up in a three-way tie for eighth place but failing to make the conference tournament.
The Wildcats return four of their five leading scorers from a year ago, however, most of whom have been starting since they were freshmen.
“We probably have more players returning than anyone in the conference except maybe Stephen F. Austin and Southeastern Louisiana, and we play both of them at home,” Golding said. “We have lot of experience and leadership back. It is hard to tell because teams in this conference reload, but we believe we can compete for a championship.”
Jalone Friday, a 6-9 junior who averaged 13.3 points and 5.1 rebounds a game last year, was selected to play for a USA Basketball team in Italy this summer, coach by Hall of Famer Larry Brown.
“That was an incredible opportunity for Jalone,” Golding noted. “It will very beneficial for him.”
Friday, 6-6 senior forward Jaren Lewis (13.2 points and 7.7 rebounds per game) and 6-2 senior guard Jaylen Franklin (10.5 points and 3.9 rebounds per game) will form the nucleus of the ACU team again this season.
Payten Ricks, a 6-2 junior who averaged 6.6 points per game, will run the point for the Wildcats. B.J. Maxwell, a 6-4 junior, is expected to the other starter.
ACU also returns 6-7 senior Hayden Farquhar and 6-7 senior Hayden Howell, both of whom have plenty of experience. The Wildcats added three freshmen from the Kansas City area – 6-6 Joe Pleasant, 6-6 Clay Gayman and 5-8 guard Damien Daniels – who should contribute, along with 6-4 freshman Tobias Cameron from Australia, who redshirted last season.
“We have more depth,” Golding said. “For the first time, we have a true Division I roster. One through 13 can contribute.”
ACU was 14-9 at the end of January last season, but the Wildcats lost six of their final eight games to miss the Southland Conference tournament and then lost Drake in overtime in the opening round of the Collegeinsider.com Postseason Tournament.
“We’ve got to win games in February and March,” Golding emphasized. “We have to handle that better. It is time to take the next step.”
Projected Starting Five
- Jaylen Franklin, 6’2, Jr., G, Jacksonville, Arkansas
- Payten Ricks, 6’2, So., G, Wichita, Kansas
- B.J. Maxwell, 6’4, So., G, Austin, Texas
- Jaren Lewis, 6’6, Jr., G/F, Orlando, Florida
- Jalone Friday, 6’9, Jr., C, Oklahoma City, Oklahoma
Jalone Friday averaged 13.3 points and 5.1 rebounds per game last year and was selected to play for a Team USA Basketball team that traveled to Italy last summer. Where he goes, ACU goes this season.
The Wildcats feature one of the more experienced teams in the Southland Conference, and coach Joe Golding expects ACU to compete of one of the top four spots in the conference tournament, which would mean a first-round bye. ACU can be a darkhorse name as a conference contender.
The worst-case scenario, as far as Golding is concerned, would be failing to make progress and not qualify for the Southland Conference tournament with such an experienced group of contributors at his disposal.
Game of the Year
ACU will play Texas Tech in a “throwback game” at old Lubbock Municipal Coliseum on Dec. 15.
Impact First-Year Player
Joe Pleasant, 6’5, Fr., F, Blue Valley Northwest High School, Kansas