NASHVILLE, Tenn. - In Cliff Warren’s first year at the helm for Jacksonville, 2005-06, he won only one game. After leading the 13-game turnaround one year later and a runner-up finish last season, his Dolphins captured the regular-season title in 2008-09 and in recognition of the Dolphins’ success, the fourth-year head coach won the Coach of the Year, part of the postseason awards announced on Tuesday.
In the 10 previous seasons in the Atlantic Sun, Jacksonville student-athletes or coaches won only one major award, Haminn Quaintance captured Freshman of the Year in 2003-04. In addition to Warren’s acclaim, the head coaches and sports information directors chose Dolphin forward Ayron Hardy as the Defensive Player of the Year. The sophomore enters the General Shale Brick Atlantic Sun Championship as the only player in the conference to rank inside the top 10 in both steals (seventh, 1.7) and blocks per game (ninth, 0.9).
The honors continued for Jacksonville as point guard Ben Smith made the All-Atlantic Sun First Team for the second straight year, the only repeat player to five-man squad. He ranks in the top 10 in scoring (sixth, 16.7), assists (fourth, 4.0), free-throw percentage (seventh, 79.6), 3-point field goal percentage (seventh, 37.4) and assist-to-turnover ratio (third, 1.67). He currently leads in minutes per game at 36.1 and shares the top spot in steals, collecting 2.3 per game
Belmont’s Alex Renfroe, acclaimed as one of the fastest players in the program’s history ran away in the voting for the Player of the Year. The senior point guard admirably filed the void left by Justin Hare, increasing his production in every major statistical category and ended up leading the team in scoring, rebounding, assists, and field goal percentage. He joins Adam Sonn in 2002-03 as the only two from Belmon t to win the conference’s top individual honor.
Mercer’s James Florence returned to the All-Atlantic Sun First Team after a Second-Team appearance last season. He flourished in Bob Hoffman’s offensive system, averaging a career-high 20.7 points per game. In conference play, he increased his scoring output to 23.2 points per contest, marking the third year in which the junior averaged at least 20 points per game in league games. Among active Division I players, only Davidson’s Stephen Curry can also make that claim. He already ranks 12th on the A-Sun’s all-time scoring chart, having totaled 1712 points.
ETSU’s Kevin Tiggs and Lipscomb’s Adnan Hodzic make the up front court on the First Team. Both in their second year in the conference, Tiggs a junior college transfer and Hodzic a true sophomore, put together two of the top scoring increases from a season ago. Tiggs shot up to a conference-leading 21.0 points per game and reached the 1000-point plateau late in the season. He shot 53.1 percent from the floor, making him one of six players in the country to average at least 20 points per game while connecting on 50 percent, or better, from the floor. Hodzic, the only sophomore named to either the First or Second Team, laid claim to the title as the A-Sun’s top true post player, averaging 17.3 points while grabbing 7.4 rebounds per game and shooting close to 60 percent from the floor.
The Second Team includes three players who reached the 1500-point plateau during the season in ETSU’s Courtney Pigram, Campbell’s Jonathan Rodriguez and Stetson’s Garfield Blair and the conference’s top two double-double machines, Mercer’s Daniel Emerson and USC Upstate’s Bobby Davis. Pigram enters the A-Sun Championship needing 28 points to join former Centenary great Willie Jackson as the only members of the 2000-point club. Emerson made an immediate impact for the Bears in his first year in the lineup after tr ansferring in from Western Kentucky, averaging 14.0 points per game while grabbing a league-leading 10.6 boards per game. His 15 double-doubles leads second-place Davis by four. Davis made a name for himself by leading the Spartans in scoring, rebounding, assists, steals and FG percentage.
Campbell’s Lorne Merthie led this year’s class of freshmen; ranking among the top five first-year players in scoring, rebounding, steals and assists in earning the Freshman of the Year honor. He won the first conference award for the Camels since former head coach Billy Lee captured the Coach of the Year honor in 1995-96. He finished out the regular season in spectacular fashion, leading the Camels in scoring in each game of their closing four-game win streak.
FGCU’s Reggie Chambers, the lone freshman to win a Player of the Week honor joined Merthie on the All-Freshman Team along with Kennesaw State’s Kurtis Woods, the only freshman to average double figures in scoring. Lipscomb’s Brian Wright and USC Upstate’s De'Marion Gordon accounted for the final two spots on the team. Wright opened his collegiate career with a 21-point outburst and totaled six double-digit scoring games this season. Gordon became the first player from USC Upstate to make the All-Freshman team.
The 2009 General Shale Brick Atlantic Sun Men’s Basketball Championship tips off on Wednesday with ETSU and Stetson playing a first-round game at 8:30 p.m. CT. Tickets to all Championship games are available at AtlanticSun.org or at Ticketmaster.com.
The Atlantic Sun Conference is an 11-member league committed to Building Winners for Life. The A-Sun stands for achievement with integrity in both the academic and athletic arenas, with a focus on the balance between the two for our student-athletes. Headquartered in Macon, Ga., the A-Sun boasts six of the top eight media markets in the Southeast. The A-Sun includes a blend of the most prestigious and dynamic private and publ ic institutions in the region: Belmont University, Campbell University, East Tennessee State University, Florida Gulf Coast University, Jacksonville University, Kennesaw State University, Lipscomb University, Mercer University, University of North Florida, University of South Carolina Upstate and Stetson University.