Roster turnover is nothing new in college basketball, and Winston-Salem State and Coach Cleo Hill Jr. had plenty of it this offseason.
Hill, who will begin his second season on the bench at WSSU, welcomes four Division I transfers to his roster. That group is led by point guard Jon Hicklin, a 6-foot-4, 205-pound transfer from James Madison. Hicklin isn’t totally new to the program. He sat out last season as a redshirt and practiced with the Rams.
“Jon is really good, and he’s really taken to what we want to accomplish here,” Hill said. “It was good that he practiced last year because he knows what to expect.”
The other transfers are guard Justice Kithcart (Old Dominion), Jaylen Alston (Gardner-Webb) and Dontae Caldwell (Maryland-Eastern Shore). Also transferring to WSSU was Glen Campbell, a 6-3 guard from Division II USC-Aiken.
Alston, a former star at Eastern Guilford, has a similar motor to the one WyKevin Bazemore had during his four seasons at WSSU. Hill coached against Bazemore when Hill was the head coach at Shaw.
“He’s not the same type of rebounder maybe that Bazemore was, but the motor Jaylen has is something else,” Hill said about Alston, who averaged 25 points, 12 rebounds and 3.4 steals per game in his senior season at Eastern Guilford.
Hill said that the NCAA hasn’t cleared the Division I transfers yet but all of them are enrolled at WSSU and have been able to go through conditioning. The Rams’ first official practice will be Oct. 15.
“I do have high expectations with this team, but the pieces have to come together,” Hill said. “My staff (assistants Ricky Wilson and Lance Beckwith) and I are excited about who we have on our roster.”
The only three remaining players recruited by James Wilhelmi, the former coach of WSSU, are seniors Robert Colon and Julius Barnes as well as sophomore Melvin Huntley Jr., a seldom-used small forward. Colon and Barnes were starters last season, and Colon has been a steady scorer in all three of his previous seasons, having scored more than 1,000 career points.
Colon was the Rams’ No. 2 scorer last season, averaging 15.5 points per game as they went 12-15 in Hill’s first season. A late-season six-game losing streak in the CIAA was their toughest stretch, but Hill points out there were several good wins as well.
“We ended up losing in the first round (of the CIAA Tournament) and that ended our season quickly,” Hill said about the loss to Elizabeth City State in Charlotte.
Hill is excited about Colon’s outlook on his senior season.
“Rob’s really bought in and has worked hard, and so has Julius,” Hill said. “I know those are the two who are from James’ teams, but they are two really good players that we can lean on in terms of experience and their talent.”
Another starter returning from last season is sophomore Xavier Fennell, a 6-4 rebounding machine who had some great moments in his freshman season. Mason Harrell is a 6-foot-8 center who did his damage mostly around the basket. Harrell missed the second half of the 2018-19 season with an injury, but he is expected to return.
Also back from last year’s team is sophomore guard Justin Ross.
The other newcomers are freshmen Shamon Jackson, a 6-foot-7 forward from Garner, and Brandon Franklin, a 6-foot-10 center from Fayetteville. Sophomore Charles Terry, who is a 6-foot-3 guard, is a graduate of Mount Tabor. Another freshman on the roster is Jaylin Parker, who is 5-foot-5 point guard from Rolesville.
“We are guard oriented, so we are happy with that aspect,” Hill said. “We’ll have the same goals as our first year here and that’s to compete for the CIAA championship.”
When asked if his second season on the WSSU bench will be easier than his first, Hill said: “I don’t know if easy is the right word. We just need to improve each and every day.”