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Minium: Jeff Jones Optimistic After Re-Stocking ODU Basketball Roster With Seven New Players


By Harry Minium

When point guard Malik Curry entered the transfer portal and left Old Dominion for West Virginia, it was a huge loss for the Monarchs. He led the team in scoring, assists and leadership.

But in spite of his departure, ODU could be a better team this season.

Coach Jeff Jones has recruited well, especially in the transfer portal, and has filled some major holes in his lineup, including point guard.

"No question, Malik Curry played a big role for us," Jones said. "But with the new additions and improvement returning guys have made, not only will we compensate for that loss, but we have a chance to be a significantly better basketball team."

Some prognosticators are predicting the Monarchs will win the Conference USA tournament, and head to the NCAA tournament for the second time in four years.

Jones said had Curry remained, ODU clearly would be the C-USA favorite. Even without him, this team will surely be in the championship hunt this season, as ODU nearly always is.

Since joining Conference USA, ODU is second only to Louisiana Tech in total victories (168), C-USA wins (94), home C-USA record (53-16), and is first in overall road record (54-52) and C-USA road record (40-29).

Jaylin Hunter

ODU is 92-23 (80.1 percent) at Chartway Arena since Jones said named coach in 2013.

This team should continue those trends. Nearly everyone else of consequence besides Curry returns and Jones brought in seven newcomers, including two guards who are outstanding shooters.

And as everyone knows who's watched ODU in recent years, outside shooting has been the Monarchs' downfall in recent years.

Charles Smith IV, a transfer from SMU, made 44.7 of his 3-point shots last season for the American Athletic Conference team. He was a four-star recruit as a high school senior in Atlanta who came to ODU in search of more playing time, and he will get it.

So will C.J. Keyser, a senior transfer from North Carolina Central who was an All-MEAC pick last season. Keyser played two seasons at Wichita State, then two more for N.C. Central and is a fifth-year senior with plenty of experience and a deft shooting eye.

"Keyser is more than a shooter, he's a scorer," Jones said.

Last season he was third in the MEAC with a 16.4-point scoring average, and he finished eighth in field goal percentage at 46.8 percent.

They join returning starter A.J. Oliver II, the Clemson transfer and senior sharpshooter who led ODU with 33 three-pointers last season.

No longer will teams be able to pack a zone around the basket and dare the Monarchs to beat them from long range.

Jason Wade was ODU's best player two years ago when he suffered a season-ending knee injury.

After having reconstructive knee surgery, and going through months of rehab, he then had another season-ending injury when he ruptured an Achilles tendon just before last season began. It has not healed to the point where he can play.

"Jason Wade experienced several setbacks and is currently not enrolled in school," Jones said. "But we are hopeful that Jason can rejoin the team in the future."

ODU has plenty of depth at guard, as freshmen point guard D'Angelo Stines from Columbia, Maryland and wing guard Imo Essien from Wylie, Texas, have also looked good so far in practice, which began last week.

Kalu Ezikpe

In spite of losing Curry, ODU should be good at point guard.

Jaylin Hunter, the sophomore and former Connecticut high school Player of the Year, played well as Curry's backup, particularly during the second half of the season, when he was a standout.

He will be pushed by Jadin Johnson, a 6-foot freshman from Omaha, Nebraska who was rated the nation's 27th high school point guard by 247Sports and made ESPN's top 50 point guards. He averaged 7.5 points and 4.7 assists in high school and was an all-state pick.

Essien gives Jones good depth at a critical position.

ODU returns three talented veterans along the front line:

* Kalu Ezikpe, the 6-7 junior from Atlanta who scored 10.3 points and had 6.7 rebounds per game. He's an immensely gifted player who at times was dominant last season and at times wasn't, especially when he got into foul trouble.

"Kalu had a good season last year," Jones said. "We really need a Kalu to step up and have a great season"

* Austin Trice, the 6-7 forward from Chicago and transfer from Kansas State, averaged 8.9 points and 6.3 rebounds while earning Sixth Man of the Year in Conference USA. He and Ezikpe were an effective pair last season when they split time at center.

* Mekhi Long, a 6-7 transfer from Rhode Island, was a key player and a good scorer, defender and rebounder.

Stephan Morris, a 6-7, 222-pound transfer from Kilgore Junior College in Texas, adds depth. The Houston native averaged 20 points and 10 rebounds in high school and 5.2 points and 2.4 rebounds at Kilgore.

Brady O'Connell, a 6-7 sophomore swing player from Milton, Ga., played sparingly last season, averaging 1.4 minutes per game, but has improved and is expected to contribute more this season. ODU also added P.J. Gill, a former Princess Anne High and Johnson & Wales player, as a walk-on guard.

A.J. Oliver II

While Jones said he's optimistic about this season, "the truth is, you don't really know until you start playing how good you're going to be. But we certainly have a chance to be really, really good."

"I'm excited about the pieces that we have," Jones added. "I'm excited with the effort and focus so far. We certainly made a strong effort in recruiting to fix some of the problems that plagued us the last few years.

"We needed to have more shooters on the roster and we do."

ODU's schedule is challenging, not just in who the Monarchs play, but where.

ODU's 2021-22 Basketball Schedule

Early on, ODU plays at James Madison, East Carolina, George Mason, William & Mary and Richmond, with a much-anticipated home game against VCU scheduled for Saturday, December 11. All six schools were ODU's rivals when they were all members of the Colonial Athletic Association.

ODU will also play in the Myrtle Beach Invitational in late November, an ESPN-sponsored event in which all games will be televised on an ESPN platform. ODU meets Indiana State in the first round and if the Monarchs win, likely will meet Oklahoma in the second round.

Winning most of those early-season games will be a key for ODU to head into the Conference USA season with good numbers in the power rankings.

"To people who know basketball, they understand it's a very difficult schedule," Jones. "It's the kind of schedule that if we're successful, could set us up well for the postseason."

Minium was twice nominated for the Pulitzer Prize in his 39 years at The Virginian-Pilot and won 27 state and national writing awards. He covers ODU athletics for Follow him on Twitter @Harry_MiniumODU, Instagram @hbminium1 or email