Enterprise State basketball coach Jermaine Williams speaks at ESCC Media Day.

As the Enterprise State Community College men’s and women’s basketball teams get set for the 2019-2020 season, it’s hard to ignore the Wiregrass’s impact on this year’s roster.

Of the Boll Weevil’s 14-man roster, five are Wiregrass natives, while four Lady Boll Weevils are from the Wiregrass.

“It’s big for us,” ESCC coach Jermaine Williams said of being able to recruit local talent. “We had a really good recruiting class here in the Wiregrass and it’s always great to make sure those guys stay here in the area.”

Both teams will be headlined by former Enterprise High standouts with incoming freshmen Ja’Juan Hayes and Randale Holloway playing for the men’s team and Gwen Mitchell serving as a leader on the women’s team.

Holloway – who is a third-generation Boll Weevil – has been one of the biggest surprises of the recruiting class, according to Williams.

“Randale has been a big surprise for us,” Williams emphasized. “He played in the post mostly in high school but we’ve moved him to (shooting) guard and he’s already got three (Division) I offers now.

“He’s a freak of nature athletically and can shoot the lights out with the ball. He’s really working hard and has been the biggest surprise of the freshmen (class).”

Holloway averaged 9.1 points and 5.5 rebounds as a senior in 2018-19, while Hayes averaged 12.4 points, 4.8 rebounds and 3.1 assists.

“Ja’Juan’s coming around, too,” Williams said. “He’s doing a good job just trying to work on his speed and getting his shot off quicker. He’s doing a great job adjusting to the college game.”

Hayes was a three-year starter at EHS and earned The Sun’s Male Hoops Player of the Year following his junior season.

Mitchell was also The Sun’s Female Hoops Player of the Year following her senior season, and Williams pointed to her as taking on a leadership role immediately after stepping foot on campus alongside Ellenwood, Ga., native Antoniya Hicks.

“Gwen Mitchell and Antoniya Hicks have already stepped up and showed they can be our leaders,” Williams said. “They come in and work hard every single day at practice and push their teammates.

“They’re my captains out there. Gwen really shoots the ball well and is a natural leader.”

Mitchell averaged 13 points, 4.7 rebounds and 2.3 steals as a senior at EHS.

Mitchell and Hicks will be leading one of Williams’ youngest groups as 10 incoming freshmen join just two sophomores returning from last season.

Elba native Laken Cooks and Cleveland’s Savannah Carter return from the 2018-19 Lady Boll Weevils and are joined by Mitchell, Hicks, Dothan’s Ivy Turner, Birmingham’s Alisha Boone, Geneva’s Jesselen Culver, Pensacola native Markiera Jackson, Atlanta’s Asya Lukas and the Cottondale, Fla., pair of Mykala Morris and Niyah Granberry.

“The girls team isn’t as big as we were last year but we have a lot of speed and a lot of (good) shooters,” Williams said.

The men’s side returns sophomores Ryan Sanders, Demitri Galette, Myikil Wilson, Jarrett Jenkins, Terrence Anderson and Ryan Davis from last season’s team. The freshmen group includes the Enterprise pair of Hayes and Holloway along with, Tampa, Fla., native James Pursley, Mableton, Ga., native Josh Graham, Ariton’s Andrew Wheeler, Jalen Smith from Birmingham, Birmingham’s Lucas Well and Kinston’s Hunter Davis.

Davis joined the ESCC team as a walk-on this fall and Williams has been impressed with his play thus far.

“Hunter is really working hard and accepting his role on the team,” Williams emphasized. “He’s really developing as a freshman.”

Of the returners, Wilson and Davis have the most experience. Wilson averaged 8.8 points and 2.3 rebounds as a freshman last season, while Davis averaged 7.2 points and 2.7 assists. Gone are high-scorers Deshunte Smith, Matthew Mazique, Lorenzo Glass and Daleville’s Kainan Pouncy. All four of those players are now playing at four-year schools.

“This year’s team is similar to our 2016 team,” Williams continued. “Everybody shared the ball and scored in that group. I really don’t see just one guy right now going out and averaging 20 (points) per game like last year.

“This is a different team and we have to coach to the style of players we have.”

That 2016 ESCC team may not have had any high-scorers, but it still went 22-7 and was one of the best seasons under Williams.

Williams pointed to defense as being the key thing for both the men and women to excel at this season if they are going to have success.

“Being able to guard one-on-one and understanding ‘help defense’ is big for us,” Williams said. “A lot of kids are coming in and just trying to learn ‘help defense’ (a form of man-to-man defense) right now.

“The old saying is defense wins championships and I believe in that. If you can keep a team from scoring then you can just go out there and have fun (on offense) and that’s how you win.”

Another obstacle for ESCC will be an obstacle for all NCAA and NJCAA schools with the institution of new rules. Among those rules will be the fact that officials are going to be more strict on the “euro step” and “step-back jumpers” as traveling for ball handlers, while any intentional “flops” will be considered a technical foul. Also, the NCAA is pushing back the three-point line to 22-feet-1 3/4-inches. That rule won’t be enacted in junior college until the 2020-2021 season, however.

“It’s going to be an interesting year,” Williams said of the rule changes. “The game is changing and it’s kind of like teaching the kids how to play basketball all over again.”

Another rule change for the Alabama Community College Conference could be coming, as well. Williams said that the conference would likely be instituting a new playoff selection for this season in the coming weeks.

Right now, the rules states that the top six teams in each division in the ACCC move on to the state playoffs, but the plan is to cut it down to the top four teams starting this season.

Even with all of those new obstacles, the goal remains a championship for ESCC.

“The goal this year is the same goal we have every year, win a championship,” Williams emphasized. “We want to get the guys and the ladies to buy into the system and play together.

“If we play together, that’s how we’ll win. Being together as a team. We want to win as many games as we can and win a championship.”

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