Furman posted the league’s worst overall record last season, winning just seven games (7-24) and just 3-15 in league play, which placed the Paladins at the bottom of the South Division. That led to the dismissal of Jeff Jackson after seven seasons, and now at the helm is Niko Medved. Medved comes back to Furman, where he served two separate stints under Jackson’s predecessor, Larry Davis, as an assistant.
Medved was an integral part of Colorado State’s NCAA Tournament club last season, which won 26 games and was the No. 8 seed in West region, helping the Rams to back-to-back NCAA Tournaments under two different head coaches, in Tim Miles and Larry Eustachy.
After serving as the Paladins’ recruiting coordinator in his previous stint, bringing in talents such as Minnesota’s Mr. Basketball Eric Webb in 2003, Medved has a knack for finding the kind of talent that could make Furman a factor once again on the SoCon basketball scene. At Colorado State, Medved was in charge of the Rams’ motion offense, and that will be something he will look to implement this season, with the luxury of four returning starters from a year ago. The only loss the Paladins suffered as a result of graduation is Colin Reddick underneath, and he led the Paladins averaging 12.6 PPG and 6.2 RPG last season.
Medved admits to being happy to be back at his old stomping grounds, and Greenville is an important place to him, having met his wife, the former Erica Nessleroad, who was a softball player at Furman in Medved’s previous tenure in Greenville.
“Greenville is a very special place for me and I some many fond memories of it, and I met my wife there and she’s a Furman graduate, and we love Greenville and love the university, so coming back is pretty neat and I think we have a lot of pieces in place to really build something great there, Medved said.”
Those pieces include players like senior guard Charlie Reddick (9.5 PPG, 5.3 RPG)--Colin’s younger brother--sophomore guards Stephen Croone (9.9 PPG, 4.0 APG, 38 steals) and Larry Wideman (7.9 PPG, 1.9 RPG), and sophomore forward Kendrec Ferrara (6.9 PPG, 5.5 RPG, 30 Blks).
Those building blocks have been trying to get down the new terminology, and learn a completely different offensive mindset, as opposed to the more Princeton-style approach the Paladins utilized under Jackson.
“Like everything else, change is difficult and change because you have a change in terminology, your system, your expectations and whatever for kids and they’ve bought in, but we still have a ways to go as far as implementing and we obviously have to look at it and tweak and will we look the same as we have looked the last couple years at Colorado State, well no, but we’ll continue to get there.”
One of the biggest missing pieces in the lineup and a guy the that had been groomed to take over the point guard duties last year was Jordan Loyd (6.0 PPG, 3.4 RPG), but an early-season knee injury ended his season after just two games. Loyd is now battling a new injury, which he also battled as a freshman two years ago, and that is a back injury and surgery could once again be on the horizon, according to Medved, marking another unfortunate setback for the talented point guard.
Furman has some excellent additions, and much the same as the same as in the past when Medved served on Larry Davis' staff, the Paladins have reached outside borders of the United States to bring in some talent to help bolster depth. Kris Acox from Reyakjavik, Iceland and Adonis Rwagibwi from Kiglai, Rwanda both adding bulk and athleticism underneath the basket, with Rwagibwi having the chance to be one of the most athletic front court players in the SoCon, though a big unpolished.
William Gates Jr. will step in as a understudy in the backcourt after starring at Clemens High School in Dallas, TX, where he was an excellent perimeter shooter. Gates, Jr. is the son of former Marquette star William Gates Sr. who was one of the main characters in the Hoop Dreams documentary. T.K Hayes and Damien Leonard round out the newcomers in the backcourt, with Leonard transferring in from South Carolina. The local Greenville, S.C. product starred at J.L. Mann high school and is another perimeter threat at the two-guard position, although he must sit out the 2013-14 due to NCAA transfer requirements.
Furman has one of its most attractive schedules in recent memory in non-conference play, facing NCAA Tournament Sweet Sixteen qualifier Florida Gulf Coast in an early season clash, while also facing tough road tests at College of Charleston, Virginia Tech, Clemson, California and UC Davis before entering conference play. The Paladins start the campaign with their first four at home, including that game with the extremely athletic FGCU squad out of the Atlantic Sun. Furman will have a chance to make a statement against the Eagles, who lost top player Sherwood Brown from that squad from last season.
The Paladins face Davidson (Jan.9) and Elon (Feb. 12) in their two top home conference matchups, as the Paladins look to take strides back to respectability in the transitioning league.
With just seven wins last season, any improvement upon that in Medved's first season would be considered a plus at this point. However, Furman I do think will finish in the 8-9 range in the league this season, springing a few surprises along the way. The Paladins are a team that is hard to figure, but they are likely better than UNCG, The Citadel and Georgia Southern on paper heading into the season. Look for Furman to start putting things together come March, and though a conference tournament title might be several years away, I wouldn't be shocked if Furman won a game in Asheville once again this season.