September 8th, 2021
Lakers land impressive recruiting class
McCullough produces 19-player roster just weeks after hire
Matt McCullough had three weeks to build an entire roster for the Garrett College men's basketball program – making the final results that much more impressive.
McCullough – the 23-year-old former Frostburg State University assistant coach hired to replace the retired Dennis Gibson just last month – recruited both a 19-member team roster and a full coaching staff over an amazing 21 days. As a result, the Lakers can hope to put together another long postseason run after last season's fourth-in-the-nation finish.
"I've been fortunate to build many great coaching connections," said McCullough, who started his coaching career as an 18-year-old assistant at his alma mater, Southern Garrett High. "It was a lot of long hours for the staff, working 12 to 14 hours a day, including 10 or 12 hours a day on the phone. We really feel like we have a lot of talent and we feel like we can have a nice season this year."
McCullough's first Laker squad features two NCAA Division I transfers, a former two-time Appalachian Mountain Athletic Conference Player of the Year, and a true freshman who was named first-team all-state last season as an Ohio high school senior.
The team also includes six players off Gibson's final team. While none of the half-dozen returners averaged more than 5 points per game last season, McCullough said they bring important experience to the squad.
"I appreciate having a half-dozen players who understand what it takes to win championships and play in a national tournament," said McCullough, noting last season's Lakers won both Region XX and Eastern District titles on the way to their fourth-place national finish.
A.J. Crosby, a 6-foot-7 forward from Woodbridge, Va., who fractured his foot early in the 2021 season, still has two years of JUCO eligibility remaining and could be a key contributor this season. The NJCAA decided not to count the shortened, COVID-influenced 2021 season toward any player's eligibility, meaning all players who participated last season have three years of total JUCO eligibility.
"A.J. has a lot of potential and a very high ceiling," said McCullough.
Lamont Powell, a 6-2 guard, averaged 4.2 points, 1.4 rebounds and 1.2 assists for last season's Lakers while playing 17 of the team's 19 games.
"He's a really good shooter, a threat from the 3-point line, a high-character, high-quality individual," McCullough said of Powell. "He knows what it takes to get to the national tournament."
Guards Dalton Wiles (Southern Garrett High) and Kyree Jones averaged 2.1 and 1.8 points per game, respectively, for last season's Lakers.
"Dalton just hustles," said McCullough. "He's all over the place all the time. He has a high motor. We're excited about him returning. He was a key role player on last year's national tournament team."
Jose Rosario, a 6-1 guard from the Dominican Republic, and Ezekiel Edwards, a 6-5 swing forward, also return from last year's squad.
The Lakers' new recruiting class includes a pair of All-Area AMAC Players at Southern Garrett High, Tyler Rodeheaver and Korey Mitchum.
Rodeheaver, a 6-4 wing who played two seasons at Frostburg State University, was a two-time AMAC Player of the Year. Korey Mitchum, a 6-2 guard who played on Allegany College of Maryland's 2019 national tournament team, is back after two years away from the collegiate game.
"Tyler got great experience at Frostburg. The Mountain East [in which FSU plays] is one of the top two or three NCAA Division II conferences in the country," said McCullough. "Korey's looking for an opportunity – he's going to redshirt this year and be ready to go next season. We're excited to have him as part of the team."
Two NCAA Division I transfers – 6-4 guard/forward Kobe Tigney from Radford University and 6-0 guard Justen Anderson from St. Francis (Pa.) University – should provide high-level play for the Lakers.
"Kobe's solid at every aspect of his game," said McCullough. "He's a good leader – a veteran guy. He brings a lot to the table.
"Justen is another guy who brings a lot of experience," added McCullough. "He has a quick first step and is a very capable shooter from the 3-point line."
Mekhi Price, a 6-3 true freshman guard, played on a Class 4A state tournament team as a high school junior.
"He was under-recruited, in my opinion," McCullough said of Price. "I think he's going to have a really good year for us."
True freshman Davion Charles, a 6-4 wing from Dunbar (Baltimore) High, should also play a key role on McCullough's first Laker team.
"Davion's very athletic, and really good defensively," McCullough said of Charles. "He plays a very physical game. His defense and effort will help him get on the floor this year."
Darius Jones, a 6-4 guard who previously played at Richard Bland and Patrick Henry community colleges in Virginia, transferred to GC with one year of eligibility remaining.
"Darius has a really explosive game," said McCullough. "He's highly skilled and seems very unselfish. We got him right at the end of the recruiting period."
True freshman Jhaiden Wilson, a 5-8 guard from Toledo, was named first-team all-state as an Ohio high school senior.
"He's very, very quick and skilled," McCullough said of Wilson. "We're looking to get him adapted to the collegiate system. I see him playing a major role for us this year once he gets settled in."
Xavier Boyd, a 6-2 guard from Atlanta, spent last year at Valdosta State, but did not play on the team.
"He played behind six Division I players in high school," McCullough said of Boyd. "You could tell from watching him play that he knows how to play the game."
True freshman Godson Smart, a 6-5 wing from Grand Prairie, Texas is expected to provide defensive leadership.
"He [Smart] has the ability to guard 1 through 5 defensively, is really physical and is a strong rebounder," said McCullough.
Darion Lee, a 6-8 forward from Charlotte, N.C., has great potential, according to McCullough.
"He's long and athletic and we're going to spend a lot of time on his fundamentals," said McCullough. "I feel he has a lot of potential for us as we move forward."
McCullough said 6-1 Lamondre Gregg and 5-11 Trumaine Jones will both help in the backcourt.
"Lamondre's an explosive guard with a lot of quickness and a lot of speed," said McCullough. "He's a capable 3-point shooter with a lot of talent.
"Trumaine is very talented and has a lot of potential," added McCullough.
McCullough has also been able to build a deep coaching staff. Jon Hegeman, the former Southern Garrett High head coach who served on Gibson's staff, will continue in his role under McCullough.
"Coach Hegeman knows the process at Garrett and he's been a valuable asset in recruiting," observed McCullough. "He understands what it takes to win and be successful at this level."
Cumberland resident Darren Graham, who played at both Allegany College of Maryland and Potomac State College of WVU, will also join McCullough's staff after three years as a Frostburg State University assistant coach.
"Coach Graham's really excited to be part of GC athletics," McCullough said. "He has many great coaching connections and has also been a very valuable asset in recruiting."
D.J. Ritchie, a physical therapist who played at both GC and Waynesburg College after being named AMAC Player of the Year at Southern Garrett, will also assist McCullough. Brandon Mersing will be on the staff as a volunteer assistant after a three-sport playing career at Southern Garrett.
McCullough said selling GC to recruits and their parents was an easy task.
"GC is an easy sell – great facilities, wonderful faculty, and incredibly helpful staff in admissions, financial aid, advising, residence life, and the registrar's office," said McCullough.
"The key was building relationships, not only with players but with parents," added McCullough. "I think players and parents quickly realized Garrett College provides excellent opportunities athletically and academically in a beautiful setting."
The Lakers officially begin practice for the 2021-22 season on October 1st.