Photo credit: Sam Roberts, Freeze Frame
The 2023 campaign for Charlotte Men’s Basketball will be a unique one, with the direction of the program unknown thanks to the late departure from former Head Coach Ron Sanchez. Is this make or break for Aaron Fearne? Yes and no. Yes, for his fate with Charlotte Athletics, it’s a one year prove it opportunity, and he’s clearly up for it. For some reason if it doesn’t work out this year at Charlotte, I think Fearne is thought highly enough of that he could land a HC job at a low major program, if he wants to be in the first chair.
This staff feels like the roster is good enough to be competitive in year 1 of AAC play, even with the loss of Brice Williams to Nebraska and Ali Khalifa to BYU. As we’ve all grown used to a musical roster, there are new faces for Niner Nation to get used to: Dishon Jackson (Washington State), Dean Reiber (Rutgers), Iaroslav Niagu (USC), Sterling Young (Pratt CC) and Nick Richart (Zionsville HS). If you are unfamiliar with those names, the new guys go 6’11, 7’0, 6’1 and 6’10, and all were brought in prior to Sanchez returning to the comfortable confines in Charlottesville, VA alongside Tony Bennett. It’s fairly miraculous that Fearne was able to keep the roster intact with Sanchez’s exit.
Charlotte led wire-to-wire on Monday night at Halton Arena, and outside of a poor three-minute stretch to end the first half, Fearne’s group controlled the game. In case you haven’t heard Aaron Fearne talk his style of play, Charlotte wants to play with more offensive tempo than they did under Sanchez, but still look to play the Pack Line defense. I think we’ll see the defense be more aggressive at times, applying more pressure. On the offensive side, in addition to a faster pace, Charlotte faithful and rejoice that the Niners will look to hit the glass for offensive rebounding opportunities, though they only reeled in 3 offensive rebounds in this one. It wasn’t that Charlotte wasn’t suited for this before, but Sanchez simply preferred to eschew this part of the game and have his players get back to set up the defense.
The Niners were lead in this one by Sophomore Nik Graves, who was perfect from the floor, nailing two 3’s, three FG’s and all three FT’s. He also pitched in 5 rebounds, 1 assist and no turnovers. Dishon Jackson pitched in 13 points and 4 rebounds and looks to give Charlotte a solid low-post presence but has the ability to stretch the floor if necessary. Charlotte fans say this on their first possession with Jackson nailing a three pointer to just beat the shot clock.
Fearne did mention looking for a bit more tempo in his postgame comments, so it’ll be interesting to see how the pace evolves throughout the season. The Niners held Maine to 33.3% from the field, 25% from deep, while blocking 3 shots and seemingly altering a handful around the rim.
One area of concern, Charlotte turned it over 15 times, with 9 of those coming from Igor Milicic Jr. and Iaroslav Niagu.
Charlotte heads to Uptown to face the Liberty Flames, as part of the Hall of Fame Series at the Spectrum Center. It’s a 4:30pm ET tip and will be streamable on ESPN+ if you can’t make it to the game. The Flames will enter 1-0 after a 103-43 win over Mid-Atlantic Christian on Monday night.