DAHLONEGA, Ga. — Sometimes in life, one has to take a step backwards in order to take two steps forward.
In the college basketball world, that could be seen as transferring out of Division I with the ultimate goal of returning to the top level down the road. Over the last few years, more and more players have made the move out of Division I, finding homes elsewhere across the country where they can play meaningful minutes and work on their game.
This off-season is no different, as there have been plenty of players transferring to various levels across the United States in advance of the 2018-19 season.
Back on May 29th, the North Georgia Nighthawks announced their signing class for the 2018-19 season. It was made up of nine players overall, which is the largest signing class for the program in the last several seasons. Three of those players will join the program from Division I programs, and they’re a trio that head coach Chris Faulkner is excited to have on his squad.
Joining the Nighthawks for the 2018-19 season are a pair of Sun Belt transfers, in Shawn Hopkins and Zach Cottrell, along with big man Acton Shirley who joins the program after a redshirt season in the Big South.
Hopkins brings with him a wealth of experience from his time with the Troy Trojans. During his three years with the Trojans, the 6’5” Hopkins helped guide the team to a Sun Belt tournament title in 2017, giving Troy its first NCAA Tournament berth since 2003 in the process.
As a junior in 2017-18, Hopkins appeared in 26 games overall, making 11 starts. He averaged 3.2 points and 1.5 rebounds per game while averaging 10.7 minutes of court time per night out. Hopkins posted a season-high 16 points against the Delaware State Hornets in non-conference play.
With his wealth of experience, Hopkins will be looked upon to lead the Nighthawks in 2018-19, both on and off the court.
Joining Hopkins at North Georgia from the Sun Belt is guard/forward Zach Cottrell, who played two seasons with the Appalachian State Mountaineers. Over his two years in Division I, Cottrell was used sparingly, averaging 4.8 minutes per game as a freshman in 2016-17, and 8.2 per game as a sophomore last season.
At 6’5”, Cottrell brings versatility to the lineup for Faulkner and the Nighthawks, much like Hopkins does. He finished his sophomore season having played in 23 games, and he started the first six games of the season. Cottrell averaged 1.2 points and 1.5 rebounds per game this past year.
Rounding out the trio is big man Acton Shirley. The seven-footer comes to the Nighthawks after a redshirt season in the Big South Conference with the Gardner-Webb Runnin’ Bulldogs. After a stellar high school career at Pike County High School, fans of the Nighthawks should be excited about the addition of Shirley.
During his time in high school, Shirley was named Class AAA South All-State by the Georgia Athletic Coaches Association. In high school, he averaged 13.9 points and 11.8 rebounds per game, and he shot 60.6% from the floor in his final season.
The Nighthawks are coming off a 2017-18 season in which they went 12-17 overall, and 10-12 in Peach Belt Conference play. They fell in the conference tournament quarter-finals, putting an end to their season earlier than they had hoped.
– T. Bennett