Hughes, other young DSU hoop players aim to step up

DSU-Todd Hughes by .

Todd Hughes spent last season observing and learning from the Hornet seniors, especially when he was injured. “It’s different without those guys but it was bound to happen one day,” Hughes said. “We all have to step up. We’ve got the leadership and knowledge from those guys.” (Delaware State News file photo)

DOVER — When Todd Hughes showed up at Delaware State University, he figured if he worked hard enough he would see playing time as a freshman.

Despite being a part of a senior-laden team and having to fight through knee and ankle injuries, that’s what happened.

Now headed into this season, Hughes is one of the few returning players for the Hornet men’s basketball team who has experience. Delaware State opens its season tonight at 8 p.m. when it hosts instate rival University of Delaware in Memorial Hall.

“I always knew that you’ll play as long as you work hard,” Hughes, a Smyrna native, said. “You can’t win if you don’t work hard so that’s what I was going to do. That’s the outcome that I wanted was to win.”

Delaware State ended last season in the MEAC Championship game, falling just short of an automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament. The Hornets graduated five seniors from that squad, including four starters.

The losses are quite significant.

Kendall Gray, the reigning MEAC Player of the Year, Amere May, DSU’s leading scorer, Tyshawn Bell, its three-point specialist, and Kendal Williams, its starting point guard, are all gone.

A handful of Hornets did play significant minutes last season. That’s led by Hughes, sophomore Kavon Waller and junior DeAndre Haywood, who each started at various points a year ago.

There is also junior Mrdjan Gasevic, who was on the floor during the final minutes of the MEAC Tournament games last season when coach Keith Walker felt like he needed a spark.

“We know we have some guys who are young but we have guys who started,” Walker said. “I knew before last season was over we had to get some of those guys coming back some appearance.”

Hughes spent last season observing and learning from the seniors, especially when he was injured.

“It’s different without those guys but it was bound to happen one day,” Hughes said. “We all have to step up. We’ve got the leadership and knowledge from those guys.”

At first glance, Hughes’ stats from last season are modest. He averaged 5.4 points a game last season.

But he had a breakout game against Howard in January with a career-high 25 points before the injuries took their toll and forced him to miss about a month.

Hughes returned just in time for the MEAC Tournament and helped the Hornets survive Howard to reach the semifinals with a team-high 19 points. He made back-to-back threes to first tie the game then give DelState the lead in the final three minutes.

Walker is comfortable with Hughes because of moments like that.

“He’s going to be one of those guys that we turn to,” Walker said. “He’s a veteran even though he’s only a sophomore.”

At least one newcomer will be in the starting lineup tonight for the Hornets.

Malik Carter, a transfer from New Mexico Junior College with sophomore eligibility, won the starting point guard job. Joe Lewis, a 6-foot-10 combo-forward, is also a newcomer that can make a difference according to Walker. Lewis is a junior also played for New Mexico Junior College last season.

“I want to see how well they can run the system,” Walker said. “I want to see how they can put the stuff we’ve been teaching them on the floor. From what I’ve seen in practice, once we can do that, we’ll be OK.”

The Hornets have won two of the last three against Delaware, though the Blue Hens own the series lead 11-4.

Delaware returns most of its starting lineup, but Walker doesn’t want Delaware State to feel like its inexperience will be a factor tonight.

“I’m not using youth as an excuse and I don’t want to,” Walker said. “I’m really looking forward to seeing what the team can do.”

 

Reach staff writer Tim Mastro at tmastro@newszap.com

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