The Charlotte 49ers men’s basketball team is off to its best start in school history. They recently brought home the championship from the Great Alaska Shootout in November, and they have been recognized by a variety of national writers at ESPN.com, The Sporting News, and CBS College Sports. Plus, the team has played four games on national television in the non-conference season.
Over the holiday break, the 49ers will host Radford (Dec. 19) and UNC Asheville (Jan. 2) on campus at Halton Arena. Then, they will take on Florida State at Time Warner Cable Arena on Dec. 22 before opening Atlantic 10 play at home on Jan. 9 vs. La Salle.
Third-year head coach Alan Major has ushered in the success with a young lineup that brings both effort and enthusiasm – and a trademark defense.
The 49ers roster includes 10 freshmen or sophomores. The starting five has been made up of any combination of freshmen and sophomores. Senior All-Atlantic 10 choice Chris Braswell remains the team’s leading scorer and rebounder, but he has ample help underneath from freshmen forwards Willie Clayton and Darion Clark. In addition, first-year transfer JT Thompson, a grad student who came to the 49ers from Virginia Tech, brings a degree of leadership and experience to the 49ers frontcourt.
Sophomore point guard Pierria Henry leads a young backcourt that includes classmates Terrence Williams and E. Victor Nickerson, as well as freshmen Denzel Ingram and Ivan Benkovic. Junior DeMario Mayfield, in his second season with the 49ers after transferring from Georgia, is the wily veteran of the bunch.
The young roster has infused the lineup with great energy. The 49ers, who might lead the league in dives on the floor if such stats were kept, have been tireless on the boards and at the defensive end. Defense, in fact, has become the team’s calling card.
Davidson head coach Bob McKillop was asked after the 49ers secured a 73-69 road win against his veteran Wildcats if the 49ers defense had an effect on the game.
"Absolutely. It completely disrupted our poise, in terms of running our system and it forced us into doing things that, I thought, were uncharacteristic. The frenetic nature put us on our heels."
Charlotte held each of its first eight opponents under 70 points in racing to a perfect 8-0 mark. In fact, Davidson was the only one to score over 65. Charlotte had five or more steals in seven of its first eight games, including nine or more in five games.
Henry, who set a 49ers freshman record in steals last year and was named to the A-10’s preseason All-Defensive team, earned MVP honors at the Great Alaska Shootout – an award fueled as much by his defense as his offense. He also keyed the 49ers stretch run in the win over Davidson, with steals and tips and general harassment.
"He has the physical tools and the emotional desire," McKillop said of Henry’s defense. "When you combine those two ingredients, it's pretty lethal."
Comments like that have become more common.
"They exerted their will upon us," said East Carolina head coach Jeff Lebo, after his Pirates fell at Halton Arena, 76-64. "They're as physical a team as we've faced this year... their strength and size dominated the game."
Using that combination of size and strength and effort and enthusiasm, the 49ers have started the season with the best record in school history while posting the program’s longest win streak since 2004-05 and winning the program’s only regular-season tournament title since 2004-05.
For more information on the Charlotte 49ers basketball team and all of the 49ers athletic programs, log on to charlotte49ers.com.