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Campus News

October 31st, 2023

Laker hoopsters feature 'high ceiling'

Wilson, Smith, and Washington to supply GC's experience


The key word for the Lakers appears to be "potential".

"Our team has a high ceiling of what we can accomplish," said Matt McCullough, Garrett College's third-year head men's basketball coach. "We have a ways to go, and we have to continue to get better in all phases of the game. Overall, though, the abilities and talents of our guys gives us a chance to have a really good year."

Three sophomore returners – guards Jhaiden Wilson and Nate Washington, along with 6-foot-4 wing Rob Smith – will provide veteran leadership. The offensively explosive Wilson helped the Lakers to an 18-win season in 2021-22 before missing last year rehabbing a serious injury. Washington and Smith, meanwhile, were key players last season as the Lakers won 19 games.

"I think Jhaiden's going to have a really good year," said McCullough. "His game's matured and he's matured as a person. He has all the skills and talent. Now he's starting to think more about the game and how to use his skill set to his best advantage."

McCullough said Smith, who averaged 10 points per game last season, has transitioned his physical build into more of a basketball player.

"Rob had a really good freshman year for us," said McCullough of the former Shepherd University football player. "He had a good off season – he spent a lot of time working on his body. Now he's leaner, quicker, faster, and stronger."

Washington, who had 13 points off the bench in last year's regional tournament loss to eventual champion Chesapeake College, has continued to improve.

"I thought his playoff game against Chesapeake last year gave him a lot of confidence," said McCullough. "He's got a really high basketball IQ – he was also an Academic All-American last year. He doesn't make mistakes, he's always in the right spot, and he's the perfect complement for any team."

The Lakers will also benefit from three transfer students, including 6-6 wing forward Alex Vargo, who started at NCAA Division I Youngstown State University in 2020-21 as a true freshman.

"He's a three-level scorer who really thinks the game," McCullough said of Vargo. "He's got an obsessive type of work ethic – he's extremely serious about his preparation."

Guard David Zwack transfers in from NCAA Division III Baldwin Wallace (Ohio) University.

"David's a great student, a great teammate, and really an extension of the coaching staff on the court," said McCullough. "He's totally bought into everything we're trying to do as a team."

DJ Saunders, a 6-2 guard, redshirted at NCAA Division II Wheeling University last season before transferring to Garrett.

"DJ controls the tempo and doesn't make a lot of mistakes," McCullough said. "He provides a steadiness that can slow the tempo, get players into the right positions, and get us into our plays."

The Lakers also have more than a half-dozen true freshmen who are capable of making an impact this season, led by 6-6 forward Antwan Gross from Washington, D.C.'s McKinley Tech.

"Antwan provides a much-needed inside threat," said McCullough. "He's a good finisher inside and he's really coming along. He solidifies us inside with his presence."

The squad's versatility comes in large part due to the presence of 6-6 forward K'Shawn Scott (Suwanee, GA) and 6-5 guard Daytwan Johnson (Norfolk, VA).

"K'Shawn can guard ‘1' through ‘5' because of his length and quickness. And he doesn't need the ball to be effective," said McCullough. "Daytwan is also very versatile – point, wing, post-up, he can do a little bit of everything. And he's got a very high upside."

Three other freshmen – 6-0 Justyn Boyd (St. Louis, MO), 6-2 Gavin Jackson (Linsly School/WV), and 6-4 Steve Robinson (Bowie, MD) – will help primarily in the backcourt, although Robinson may also be used at forward.

"Justyn is an explosive guard – a good 3-point shooter who is dynamic with the basketball and extremely fun to coach," said McCullough. "Gavin is a streaky guy – when he hits one or two, it feels like everything he shoots is going to go in. Steve is a good passer who can really see the floor well."

Kydale Staten (Buffalo, NY) is a 6-5 wing who should improve as the season goes on.

"He's another guy who does a lot of little things right," McCullough said of Staten. "He's committed to the gym and the weight room. He didn't have a whole lot of experience coming in, but his game is really starting to take off as he gains experience and confidence."

The Lakers open their 30-game regular season by hosting the Personal Best Tip-Off Classic November 3-4. Garrett plays reigning NJCAA Division I Region 20 champion Allegany College of Maryland on Friday at 7 p.m. and Hocking (Ohio) College Saturday afternoon at 3 p.m.

"Hocking may be the best team we play this year," said McCullough, noting the Lakers are opening with two impressive opponents on the road.

McCullough is eager to get the season underway and to see how close the Lakers can get to their ceiling.

"I'm excited about this year," said McCullough. "I think it can be a good one for us."