2015-16 College Basketball Previews: Little Rock Trojans

Forward Roger Woods is one of two starters returning for the Little Rock Trojans in 2015-16, but key impact transfers may boost them into contention this season.
Forward Roger Woods is one of two starters returning for the Little Rock Trojans in 2015-16, but key impact transfers may boost them into contention this season.

Formerly known to the basketball world as the University of Arkansas – Little Rock, the Trojans have re-branded themselves both in terms of their name and on-court talent in advance of the 2015-16 season.

Now known as the Little Rock Trojans, “Little Rock’s Team” is ready to make a statement in the Sun Belt, and this may be the first of several years where the Trojans are in the thick of things in the conference race down the stretch.

The team is coming off a sub-.500 performance a season ago, so managing expectations for the team will be key for the coaching staff. Keeping the players focused on the on-court product and focusing on each game as they come will be key to helping the team develop and reach contender status.

The roster makes a bit of an overhaul this season, so scroll down to learn more about some of the new faces the Trojans will have this season, and see what you can expect from “Little Rock’s Team”.

Who’s Missing

The LIttle Rock Trojans underwent a few changes in the off-season. Most notably, they re-branded themselves as “Little Rock’s Team”, and a clever move it was. It gives the team, and city of Little Rock, a sense of pride in the city and the team.

In terms of the product that the men’s basketball team will put on the court in 2015-16, there will be some changes in personnel from last season. The Trojans will say goodbye to four of their key contributors, two by the way of graduation, and two via the transfer market. James Reid and James White will transfer, while J.T. Thomas and Ben Dillard have graduated from Little Rock.

Reid is a tough loss for the Trojans, as he appeared in 31 games for the Trojans last season and was expected to take on a bigger role with the team this season. The 6’3” guard out of Bend, Oregon averaged 7.9 points per game on 39.2% shooting from the floor and 34.7% from three point range. He also chipped in with 2.4 rebounds and 1.4 assists per contest. Reid led the team in three point baskets made, with 51, and he scored in double figures 11 times in his only season with the Trojans.

James Reid transferred to Boise State.

James White is arguably the biggest loss for the Trojans from last year’s team, as he was an impact player when he was on the floor and healthy. White appeared in 15 games last season before suffering a stress fracture in his tibia, which ended his season. In his injury-shortened season, he averaged 11.9 points, 6.6 rebounds, and 1.7 blocks per game. His 1.7 blocks per game were good for third in the Sun Belt at the time. The 6’8” power forward is a gifted basketball player, and was on pace for another strong season before his injury.

James White has transferred to Georgia Tech, where he will be eligible immediately this season.

J.T. Thomas (31 gp, 25 starts) and Ben Dillard (31 gp, 24 starts) have both graduated from Little Rock, leaving holes in the lineup in the process. Dillard averaged 7.6 points and 1.5 assists per contest, while Thomas chipped in with 6.2 points and 2.4 assists of his own. Both players were key components of the team last season, and their veteran leadership and talents will be missed this season.

Bench player Jerron Washington is also on the move. After averaging just 5.7 minutes per game last season in 22 appearances, Washington has transferred to Arkansas – Monticello.

Who’s Returning

The Trojans lost two key players due to the transfer market, but they gained three to replace those players that they lost. So, the transfer market wasn’t full of just bad news for the team leading up to the 2015-16 season.

Florida A&M-transfer Jermaine Ruttley, Wake Forest-transfer Daniel Green, and JUCO-transfer Marcus Johnson, Jr. highlight the newcomers to the program. Add them to a team that returns its top two scorers from a season ago, Josh Hagins and Roger Woods, and there is a heightened level of optimism around the team this season.

Despite only making 8 starts last season, but appearing in all 31 games, guard Josh Hagins was the team’s top scorer in 2014-15. The 6’1” guard from Bossier City, LA averaged 12.1 points per game to go along with 4.0 rebounds and 3.0 assists per contest. He is a strong shooter from all over the floor: 41.9% from the floor, 33.9% from three point range, and 83.3% from the free throw line. With the statistics he put up last season and predominately coming off the bench, a bigger role is in store for him this season.

A key piece returning this season was a fixture in the starting lineup last season, and that’s forward Roger Woods. The 6’5” forward out of Jackson, MS appeared in all 31 games for the Trojans, making 26 starts a year ago. Woods started his career at Southeastern Louisiana, then transferred to Mississippi Gulf Coast CC before coming to Little Rick. He showed flashes of some shooting range a year ago, making 44.8% (13-of-29) of his three point attempts. He also added in 6.5 rebounds per game, good for second-best on the team. Woods will be looked upon to provide leadership this season and guide a veteran team into battle.

Mariek Isom is back for another season with the Trojans, and should see an increased role of his own. Last season, he led the Sun Belt in three point shooting percentage, shooting 45.0% from long distance.

The biggest pieces to this year’s puzzle are their transfer players. Marcus Johnson, Jr put together a stellar career at Hill College. Last season, he averaged 16.9 points, 7.8 assists, and 3.2 rebounds while starting all 36 games. He took home the MVP award in the Northern Texas Junior College Athletic Conference (NTJCAC) and was named to the First-Team ALl-NTJCAC. He very well could find himself in the starting lineup on a regular basis if he can quickly adapt to the NCAA game.

Jermaine Ruttley comes over from Florida A&M, where he was a star in a rocky situation. He led the Rattlers in points (17.4), rebounds (6.7), assists (3.1), and steals (1.6) per game last season. Ruttley topped the 20-point mark an impressive 13 times a season ago, and he reached double-figures in 25 of Florida A&M’s 29 contests. His scoring ability will add another dimension to the Trojans’ offense.

The 6’10” Wake Forest-transfer Daniel Green brings some much-needed size to the front court for the Trojans in 2015-16. After an injury-filled tenure with the Demon Deacons, Green is ready to show what he is capable of now that he is healthy.

Projected Starting Five

Guard: Josh Hagins (SR)

Guard: Jermaine Ruttley (SR)

Forward: Roger Woods (SR)

Forward: Mareik Isom (JR)

Forward: Daniel Green (SR)

Schedule Notes

To end off last season, the Little Rock Trojans found themselves on a three-game losing streak, finishing the year at 13 – 18 overall and 8 – 12 in conference play. They are hoping that they can open 2015-16 on a high note, and build some positive momentum before the games get tougher.

Fortunately for Little Rock, they open up against Central Baptist and Centenary College on their home floor in their first two games of the season. The Trojans should come away with both, giving themselves some confidence as they head to San Diego, CA to take on San Diego State in their next contest.

Throughout the rest of non-conference play, the Trojans only have two home games on their slate. They welcome Central Arkansas to town to open up December in the first of two meeting between the schools this season, and Northern Arizona pays a visit to Little Rock on December 20th. That puts a premium on road victories heading into Sun Belt play.

Last season, the Trojans were just 3 – 9 on the road, and they are hoping for better results this time around. With dates scheduled against the likes of East Carolina, Tulsa, Texas Tech and DePaul, the road contests will be tough and the wins may be tougher to come by when the Trojans are away from home.

This season, the Little Rock Trojans will rely heavily on their incoming players to guide them on the offensive end of the floor, as well as on defense. Fortunately for the Trojans, they landed two of the more gifted scorers in Ruttley and Johnson, and they could help lead the team back to contender status in the Sun Belt.

It’s hard to see the Trojans making a leap into first place, especially with the talent that is returning across the rest of the conference (see Shawn Long, Kevin Ware, Anthony Livingston, etc.). With that said, a top-half finish for the Trojans in the standings looks to be in the cards this season, and a good record could lead to a possible post-season berth in the CIT or the CBI.

The talent keeps on coming for the Trojans, as they will have Mississippi State-transfer Oliver Black and Florida State-transfer Dayshawn Watkins eligible for the 2016-17 season. The future is bright for Little Rock’s Team.

– T.B.