HICKORY, N.C. — The Catawba Valley men's basketball program enters the 2018-19 season with nearly an entirely new roster and a new sense of optimism.
"We've got a lot of energy and enthusiasm," said CVCC men's basketball head coach Bryan Garmroth, who enters his eighth season at the helm of the Red Hawks. "We have a lot of new players, but I think that's good. They are excited about playing."
Only three players return from last season's Red Hawks squad — guard Everett Palmer and forwards Isayah Johnson and Victor Tshiona.
Garmroth said all three athletes are playing a pivotal role in shaping this year's CVCC men's basketball team.
"They are doing a good job," Garmroth said of the trio. "Isayah Johnson could play for a lot of people at the four-year level. He's very talented and an extremely hard worker. Victor has shown a lot of growth and maturity. He is a very talented player. Everett Palmer has worked really hard over the summer and is doing a good job. All three of those guys are doing a good job of being leaders."
The Red Hawks also added two sophomore transfers this season in former Mars Hill product Brandon Reeves and former Hill College standout Jordan Powell. Garmroth has been impressed with both veteran athletes.
"Brandon Reeves and Jordan Powell have both come in and done a good job in terms of having experience, having played college basketball and are also providing leadership," Garmroth said. "I almost feel like they were here last year."
All five sophomores will help guide a young Red Hawks squad that features 13 total freshman.
Garmroth said there have been little surprises in his large freshman class, but the biggest issue has been their development.
"I think we kind of had a good idea of what they all could do coming in. That's kind of what we are getting," Garmroth said of his freshmen. "They are doing what we thought they could do. It's just a huge learning curve for freshman — the intensity level they need to practice and play at. I think all of them are doing the things that we felt like they could do. It's like every freshman in America. They've got a lot of improvement to make. A lot of it is on the mental side."
Also slowing down that growth has been a lack of depth at point guard and some early-season injuries, which is something Garmroth has not dealt with a lot during his 27-year coaching career.
"It's hard to have a feel on really where we are at because we've had so many injuries in the preseason," Garmroth said. "We've had a knee injury, three or four ankle injuries, a broken wrist and now possible a forearm injury that is keeping one of our players out a few weeks. I've had more injuries than I've ever seen. With all of the new guys that we are trying to get to learn the system and the number of guys that have been out, it's pretty scary. We are behind in a lot of the learning curve, but I think it's a really good group with good people. Hopefully we can avoid a slow start."
While injuries and learning a new system may be issues for now, Garmroth believes the personality of his group will allow it to not only survive the early-season grind, but thrive as it continues to gain experience.
"I think it's a much more mature group than what we had last year," he said. "I like the character of the people that we have. That was something we tried to emphasize. It was something we had always done in recruiting. I think last year we didn't do a good job like we did in the past in that area. This year, we've got good character, which helps with the mental toughness. We brought 18 players in here, and we still have 18 players. That's unusual. I think that says a lot about our players and their character. Usually by now at this level you've lost two or three players. I think we've got a good group of guys that want to play, but how fast are they going to learn how to play? I think the first thing that has to come about for that to happen is they have to understand they don't know how to play. They were all good high school players, and they are good players, but this is a completely different level. Even though we've had some scrimmages, I don't think they quite understand that yet."
The Red Hawks open their regular season on Thursday in a home opener against the Montreat College JV team. Tip off is set for 7 p.m.
Garmroth and his Red Hawk basketball players are ready to get the 2018-19 season started.
"I think we are all excited about it," Garmroth said of the season opener. "I don't think anyone is nervous. I think we are just a little anxious to see how fast we can mature and the level you've got to play at and get healthy."