In keeping with High Point University’s ongoing mission to advance it's already improving name, Scott Cherry was hired as the head basketball coach at HPU yesterday.
The hiring means High Point will immediately challenge for the Big South Conference crown, and perhaps more importantly, will give a boost to the sagging Big South, which has deteriorated in stature since Gregg Marshall left Winthrop for Wichita State.
Despite High Point’s last-place finish last season, I expect them to battle for the top spot due to two factors:
1.) Cherry’s pedigree and experience
2.) The state of High Point’s roster in comparison to the rest of the Big South.
Simply put, Scott Cherry is synonymous with winning.
As a player at North Carolina in the early 90’s, Cherry’s efforts helped the Tar Heels advance to the Sweet 16 every year of his four-year career; including a trip to the 1991 Final Four, and the 1993 National Championship, which UNC won.
As an assistant coach for 10 years, Cherry has never been part of a team that did not have a winning record, or play in the postseason.
Cherry first made a name for himself as a seven-year assistant to Jim Larranaga at George Mason University, a top team in the Colonial Athletic Conference year-in and year-out.
Cherry was at his best when the Patriots went on their well-documented run to the Final Four as an 11 seed.
Cherry then hooked up with Darrin Horn at Western Kentucky, where the team made a run to the Sweet 16 two years ago.
Fresh off that performance, Cherry followed Horn to South Carolina, where the coaching staff resurrected the Gamecock program. They transformed a team that won nine conference games over the last two seasons, into a competitive 10-6 squad that claimed a portion of the Eastern Division crown (tied with Tennessee).
Which brings us back to High Point University.
Much like the team he inherited at South Carolina, the High Point Panthers return every player but one, Melvin Crowder, who only averaged 3.4 ppg this past season.
Look for Cherry to give a jumpstart to this young team. and rely heavily on guard Nick Barbour, who earned Big South All-Freshman team honors while averaging 14.4 points per contest.
The class of the Big South next season will clearly be Radford; the Highlanders lose the reliable Kenny Thomas—and his 15 ppg—but return their other four starters, including the reining Player of the Year in Art Parakhouski, his frontcourt mate Joey Lynch-Flohr and point guard Amir Johnson.
From there, however, the Big South is wide open. This year’s runner-up, VMI, has plenty of talent, but the departure of twins Travis and Chavis Holmes takes away valuable leadership, and over 40 points of production every game.
Seth Curry’s much publicized search for a bigger challenge will be damaging to Liberty’s progress this coming season, and none of the other conference teams have enough returning players to legitimately challenge Radford.
Both High Point University and the Big South should be celebrating the hire of Scott Cherry.
If Cherry’s past success is any indication, the High Point Panthers will be dancing before you know it.
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