Take Note: Ten Underrated Names to Watch in the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference in 2018-19

Gantz, Kobe
Kobe Gantz played just seven games last season before suffering a season-ending injury. If healthy, Gantz will be one of the biggest names in the MEAC in 2018-19. (Source: Newsday) (Header: Bethune-Cookman Athletics)

SARNIA, Ont. — The 2018-19 season is just around the corner, and excitement continues to build with each passing day.

Over the next few weeks, we will be looking at names to know in each conference across the NCAA to help fans get caught up with who is returning this season, and give them some underrated names to know for the 2018-19 campaign. The biggest names in each conference won’t necessarily be featured, as the goal is to bring attention to some underrated talents across the country.

Changes are coming in the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference, and they begin to take place in 2018-19.

The Hampton Pirates have moved to the Big South Conference, ending their tenure in the MEAC, and they will begin play in their new conference this season. Then, at year’s end, the Savannah State Tigers will move down to Division II, leaving the MEAC at 11 teams for the time being.

Add in player turnover, and you have 12 teams in 2018-19 that look considerably different than they did a season ago. Star players have graduated, while several others have transferred out of the conference. With all of the changes that have taken place, it’s tough to keep up to date with what’s going on.

Here are 10 returning players to know in the MEAC before the 2018-19 season gets underway on November 6th, 2018.

Note: Names like Shawntrez Davis, Raasean Davis, Charles Williams and RJ Cole weren’t listed because people should be familiar with their names by now.

Isaiah Bailey – Bethune-Cookman Wildcats

2017-18 Stats: 16.1 ppg, 5.3 rpg, 4.8 apg, 4.0 tpg; 42.3% FG, 78.5% FT

During the 2017-18 season, the Bethune-Cookman Wildcats made major strides in the MEAC, earning a share of the regular season conference title. A big reason for the Wildcats’ impressive season was the play of junior guard Isaiah Bailey, who had himself an impressive first season with the Wildcats. With Brandon Tabb gone from the program due to graduation, Bailey becomes the go-to option for the Wildcats on the offensive end in the back court.

The native of Compton, CA transferred to Bethune-Cookman after playing at Angelina (Tex.) Junior College, and became one of the MEAC’s best players by season’s end. Bailey finished second on the team in scoring, averaging 16.1 points per game to go along with 5.3 rebounds and 4.8 assists. His stat-stuffing season earned him Third Team All-MEAC honours at year’s end. The 4.0 turnovers per game are an issue, but his ability to score the basketball help to negate the turnovers. Consider Bailey a legitimate front-runner for the 2018-19 MEAC Player of the Year award.

Damani Applewhite – South Carolina State Bulldogs

2017-18 Stats: 12.7 ppg, 6.8 rpg, 0.7 apg, 0.5 spg; 53.8% FG, 69.7% FT

In recent years, the South Carolina State Bulldogs have had their fair share of talented players on their roster, but haven’t been able to turn that into regular season success or post-season appearances. The Bulldogs accepted an invitation to the 2016 CIT, but fell in the first round. Last season, South Carolina State had four players average double-digit points per game, led by forward Damani Applewhite, who is back to lead the Bulldogs in 2018-19.

Applewhite led the Bulldogs with an average of 12.7 points per game as a sophomore, while his 6.8 rebounds per contest also led the team. The 6’8” forward took on an expanded role from his freshman season, and he made the most of it. His minutes doubled in 2017-18, as he led the team with an average of 29.3 minutes per night. Applewhite shot 54.1% last season on two-point attempts from the field. With the Bulldogs losing three of their top five scorers from last season, Applewhite and Janai Raynor Powell will be looked upon to lead the Bulldogs on their quest for a MEAC title in 2018-19.

Dejuan Clayton – Coppin State Eagles

2017-18 Stats: 10.2 ppg, 1.8 rpg, 1.8 apg, 1.0 spg; 33.3% FG (6 GP)

Fans of Coppin State were left wondering what could’ve been for sophomore guard Dejuan Clayton in 2017-18. After a strong freshman year in 2016-17 that saw him average over 12 points and three assists per game, Clayton was looking to take another step forward in his progression and help the Eagles climb in the MEAC standings. Instead, he played just six games before suffering a season-ending injury. With the injury, his name may have slipped from the minds of the casual fan. It’s time to get familiar with the Bowie, MD native once again.

Clayton, Dejuan (3)
On the heels of a strong freshman season, guard Dejuan Clayton averaged 10.2 points per game in 2017-18 through six games before missing the rest of the season due to injury. (Source: Coppin State Athletics)

Through his six games last season, Clayton posted an average of 10.2 points per game, while shooting 33.3% from the field. He recorded at least five points in each game, and he recorded double-digit points on a pair of occasions. Over the final 14 games of his freshman season, Clayton started to find his rhythm on the offensive end of the floor, recording double-digit points in 13 of those contests. If Clayton is able to come back healthy in 2018-19 for Juan Dixon and the Eagles, he should be in for a career year as the Eagles’ top offensive option.

Kobe Gantz – Delaware State Hornets

2017-18 Stats: 11.6 ppg, 4.6 rpg, 2.9 apg, 2.3 spg; 39.7% FG, 42.1% 3PT (7 GP)

Similar to Coppin State and Clayton, the Delaware State Hornets found themselves without arguably their best returning player for the majority of last season, as Kobe Gantz suited up for just seven games before suffering a season-ending injury that derailed a career year for the native of Lancaster, PA. After his surgery in January, Gantz lost his father after a battle with various illnesses. Given what he’s gone through over the last year, look for Gantz to come back to the court with a renewed sense of passion in 2018-19.

Before his injury, Gantz was on pace for a career year with the Hornets. Across his seven games, he had three double-digit point performances. He posted 21 points and 10 rebounds on the road against the DePaul Blue Demons, and then followed that up with 23 points, seven rebounds, and seven steals against the Fort Wayne Mastodons in the Hornets’ next outing. Gantz can shoot it from long range with a high level of consistency, which helps to keep opposing defenses honest in their coverage. The health of Gantz will be the biggest question mark heading into the season. If he is back to 100 percent this season, Gantz should be in store for a career year as he looks to make up for lost time from last year’s hot start.

Martez Cameron – Morgan State Bears

2017-18 Stats: 8.5 ppg, 2.8 rpg, 4.3 apg, 1.4 spg; 37.1% FG, 35.7% 3PT

The 2018-19 season will be a transition season for the Morgan State Bears. At the end of last season, they said goodbye to the likes of Tiwian Kendley and Phillip Carr, both of whom graduated from the program. Their departures have left two big holes to fill heading into the 2018-19 season, as they were one-two in scoring on the team. The loss of Kendley in the back court opens up an opportunity for someone else to take on a leading role, and Martez Cameron could very well be that guy.

Cameron is the top returning scorer for the Bears from last year’s team, as his 8.5 points per game were good for the third highest mark behind Kendley and Carr. The 5’11” guard from Chicago has made positive strides in each of his three seasons with the Bears, improving both his point per game total and field goal percentage with each passing year. With plenty of opportunities on the horizon for Cameron this season to step into a leadership role from the outset of the season, look for him to continue his forward progression and post a career year to cap off his collegiate career.

Ryan Andino – Maryland-Eastern Shore Hawks

2016-17 Stats: 12.7 ppg, 2.0 rpg, 1.0 apg, 0.8 spg; 83.7% FT, 38.0% 3PT

Ryan Andino missed all of 2017-18 due to an injury, as did Dontae Caldwell and Isaac Taylor. In 2018-19, the trio will be back on the floor, and Andino will be looking to make up for lost time in his senior season. (Source: Maryland-Eastern Shore Athletics)

Ryan Andino was one of three players for Maryland-Eastern Shore to miss the entire 2017-18 season due to injury, as he was joined on the sidelines by both Isaac Taylor and Dontae Caldwell. The trio were the top three returning scorers from the 2016-17 team, and the Hawks struggled without them in the lineup. After considering a transfer from the program, Andino opted to return to Eastern Shore for his final season in 2018-19, and the sharp-shooter is ready to make up for lost time this year.

In 2016-17, Andino emerged as one of the nation’s top three point threats. He’s never been afraid to shoot from long distance, and his junior season was no exception. Andino attempted a total of 361 field goals, and 303 of them came from beyond the arc. The native of Fort Lauderdale, FL shot 38.0% (115-of-303) from beyond the arc, en route to averaging 12.7 points per game. Being a volume shooter leads to hot streaks and cold streaks, but when he gets hot, Andino can fill up the basket on any given night. Andino is on the verge of passing 1,000 points with the Hawks, as he enters the season with 843 on his resume.

Jordan Perkins – North Carolina Central Eagles

2017-18 Stats: 8.3 ppg, 2.9 rpg, 5.4 apg, 0.6 spg; 44.0% FG, 38.9% 3PT

LeVelle Moton and the North Carolina Central Eagles are always a threat to win the MEAC crown each and every year. Even though the Eagles have lost four players to transfer from last year’s roster, they are still a legitimate title threat. The likes of Raasean Davis and Pablo Rivas will grab the headlines on first glance for the Eagles, but Moton has himself a rising star in sophomore point guard Jordan Perkins. The native of Greensboro, NC will be the next star guard to come out of North Carolina Central, and will be a name that you’ll want to know before it’s too late.

On a talented Eagles team last season, Perkins finished third on the team in scoring as a freshman, averaging 8.3 points per contest. His 5.4 assists per game led the team, and he recorded a 2-to-1 assist-to-turnover ratio (190 assists vs. 95 turnovers). Perkins recorded at least five assists on 22 occasions, and he posted a pair of double-doubles with points and assists. He posted 13 points and 14 assists in a 17-point win for the Eagles in February against the Howard Bison. His court vision and ability to find teammates for open looks keeps the offense running at a high level. Look for Perkins to continue his ascent to stardom in 2018-19 as the Eagles look to make it back to the Big Dance.

Soufiyane Diakite – Bethune-Cookman Wildcats

2017-18 Stats: 10.5 ppg, 9.8 rpg, 1.1 apg, 0.9 bpg; 57.3% FG

Last season, the bulk of the attention up front for the Wildcats went to Shawntrez Davis. He was one of the top players in the conference all season long, and one of the MEAC’s most consistent performers. However, Bethune-Cookman’s leading rebounder was none other than Soufiyane Diakite, who was in his first season with the team after transferring from the Morehead State Eagles. As the season moved along, Diakite became a consistent threat on the glass, recording his share of double-doubles in conference play.

Diakite was one of five Wildcats to average double-digit points per game, finishing fourth on the team with an average of 10.5 points per contest. He finished the season with 11 double-doubles, four of which came with Diakite recording at least 20 points. Diakite’s development on both ends of the floor took some of the pressure off of Davis up front, forcing opposing defenses to pick their poison up front. The 6’6” forward doesn’t have the shooting range that Davis has, but his ability to pull down rebounds on both ends of the floor gets the Wildcats moving in transition and gives them second-chance opportunities on offense.

Steven Whitley – Norfolk State Spartans

2017-18 Stats: 12.2 ppg, 5.7 rpg, 4.7 apg, 1.6 spg; 44.6% FG, 34.8% 3PT

Year after year, the Norfolk State Spartans find themselves in the thick of things atop the MEAC standings, and last season was no different. Even without guard Zaynah Robinson, head coach Robert Jones and the Spartans finished in a tie for fourth place in the regular season standings, just a game out of the three-way tie for top spot. The absence of Robinson in the lineup provided opportunities for others to step up, and nobody seized their opportunity more than transfer Steven Whitley, who was in his first season with the Spartans.

Whitley came to Norfolk State after one season with the Robert Morris Colonials, and he emerged as one of the best players in the MEAC. Playing in his hometown of Norfolk, Whitley stuffed the stat sheet for the Spartans, averaging 12.2 points, 5.7 rebounds, and 4.7 assists per game. He shot 44.6% from the field and 34.8% from behind the three point line to complete his stellar season. Entering the 2018-19 season, Whitley is one of the biggest names in the MEAC, and arguably the biggest name that nobody has heard of. That will change this season, and look for Whitley and Alex Long to have the Spartans right near the top of the standings once again.

Kameron Langley – North Carolina A&T Aggies

2017-18 Stats: 7.4 ppg, 3.3 rpg, 5.1 apg, 1.7 spg; 51.5% FG, 71.1% FT

What a year it was for the North Carolina A&T Aggies. Just one year after recording just three wins, the Aggies completed a massive turnaround in 2017-18. They won a total of 20 games, advancing to the MEAC semi-finals and the 2018 CollegeInsider.com Tournament in the process. Now, with the likes of Femi Olujobi and Davaris McGowens gone from the program, the Aggies are hoping to maintain the positive momentum that they generated last season. With the roster turnover, the opportunity is there for a player like Kameron Langley to step up and take on a leading role with the program.

Last season, Langley was one of just two players to suit up in all 35 games for the Aggies (Denzel Keyes). The freshman from Greensboro, NC posted a team-high 5.1 assists per game, while shooting above 51% from the field. Langley recorded 177 assists to just 77 turnovers, an assist-to-turnover ratio of 2.3 – 1. His ability to maintain possession of the basketball and get his teammates involved will make him a name to remember in the MEAC this season. With the bulk of their offensive production having moved on, the Aggies will likely look for Langley to expand his offensive game while maintaining point guard duties.

Five More to Watch

Tyler Jones – Maryland-Eastern Shore
Mastadi Pitt – Norfolk State
Justin Ravenel – Florida A&M Rattlers
Simon Okolue – Delaware State
Pablo Rivas – North Carolina Central

– T. Bennett

Follow along with each conference as it’s released on Twitter, as we have created a #TakeNote moment that will have each player listed as the articles are released.