Countdown to 2015–16: Jordon Talley is the perfect leader for UNC Wilmington

Courtesy of UNC Wilmington men’s basketball)

Twenty thousand, nine hundred and sixty two fans were on hand at the KFC Yum! Center on Dec. 14, 2014. Most were clad in Louisville red, and they must have expected their Cardinals, then ranked No. 4 in the country, to breeze past UNC Wilmington.

Forty-five minutes later, hearts descended from mouths after Louisville survived an inspired performance from their opponents, finally putting the Seahawks away in overtime, 68–57.

The game held particular resonance for this UNCW team. Their first-year head coach, Kevin Keatts, had spent the past three seasons as a Louisville assistant coach — including ‘13–14 as the associate head coach. As he reunited with his former players, some of whom he’d helped lead to the 2013 national championship, Cardinals forward Montrezl Harrell told him, “This team you’ve got now is going to be pretty good.”

UNC Wilmington was picked to finish ninth in the Colonial Athletic Association for 2014–15; when the dust had settled on the conference campaign, the Seahawks were in a four-way tie for first.

Though they were anchored by the senior trio of Freddie Jackson (13.3 pts, 5.5 reb), Addison Spruill (14.3 pts, 6.5 reb, first-team all-conference), and Cedrick Williams (7.5 pts, 6.3 reb), it was a freshman point guard who made some of the most noise.

Jordon Talley signed with UNC Wilmington in May, just under a month after Keatts was named head coach. He was Keatts’s first recruit. Talley had spent the previous year at Fishburne Military School, in Waynesboro, Va. Even after qualifying academically for college, and could have therefore bypassed his year at Fishburne, Talley stuck with his plan. He credits it with making him tougher.

Keatts is familiar with that route, having spent a total of 10 seasons, divvied between two separate stints, as the head coach of Hargrave Military Academy, in Chatham, Va. He amassed a 263–17 record, and won two national championships.

He became known as a keen observer of talent — at Louisville, Keatts became renowned as one of the best assistants in the game. In that game last season against the Cardinals, it all coalesced. Talley played in a then-career high 26 minutes. He scored 13 points, and for his efforts was named CAA Freshman of the Week. “I thought he matured as a freshman today,” Keatts said in the post-game press conference. That was a sentiment that applied to the entire team.

Three days later, the Seahawks went to OT once again, and this time took down Liberty.

On Jan. 5, they never trailed in taking down CAA preseason favorite Northeastern on the road. In his second career start, Talley dropped a career-high 21 points. “He set the tone for us defensively,” Keatts said in the post-game press conference.

Nine days later, UNCW battled William & Mary on the road, before falling 76–72. The next game: a road tilt against Hofstra. The Seahawks won that one, 79–74. These were two of the seven times they emerged victorious away from home in ‘14–15.

Talley’s line against the Pride: 37 minutes, 17 points, three assists.

He has helped certainly galvanized the UNCW program. With an 18–14 final record, UNCW doubled its win total from the previous season. They led the CAA in attendance, averaging 3,955 fans over 12 home games — a boost of some 700 per night from ‘13–14.

This season, the team will be different. Eight newcomers, including four transfers, join the fold. One to note is Mark Matthews, a 6–6 incoming guard who picked UNCW over a host of CAA schools.

Such turnover is always helped by the presence of strong point guard. A leader. That’s something Talley has been since his days at Fishburne. His head coach there, Ed Huckaby, stressed the importance of serving as an example for teammates, on and off the court.

Talley’s 98 assists in ‘14–15 ranked second all-time for a UNCW freshman. He started all 20 conference games. Safe to say the Seahawks are in safe hands, going forward.

Courtesy of UNCW game notes (ahead of season finale vs. Sam Houston State)

Game of life, with a twist—and shout. Twitter: @alleywhoops

Game of life, with a twist—and shout. Twitter: @alleywhoops