Local college notebook: First-year players stepping up for Hornets

Delaware State’s Simon Okolue drives in to score in the first half against the University of Delaware Sunday night. Special To The Delaware State News/Gary Emeigh

DOVER — Considering that it lost its three top scorers from last season’s team, this year’s version of the Delaware State men’s basketball squad was always going to be inexperienced at the beginning.

Things got even worse when Kobe Gantz, one of the few returning players and the Hornets’ top scorer so far, went down with an injury in the sixth game of the season. Gantz hasn’t returned to the lineup since then.

While there hasn’t been much to get excited about, the Hornets — who were 2-11 before Friday’s matchup at Nebraska — have two first-year players who have stepped up in freshman point guard Pinky Willey and junior college transfer Simon Okolue.

Willey was thrust into the starting point guard role when Gantz was injured.

He’s coming off his best performance of the season, playing all 40 minutes in a 74-68 loss to Pittsburgh on Tuesday where he scored 16 points and dished out seven assists.

DSU coach Keith Walker said the coaching staff has seen flashes out of the freshman, but were waiting for him to put a full game together, like he did against Pittsburgh.

“We’ve got a rookie in there and he’s learning,” Walker said. “He’s coming along, though. We need better control out of the point guard spot. But I think he’s going to be just fine.

“He’s been able to put some things together and now we have to see if we can sustain it for a full game.”

Okolue also had a breakout game at Pittsburgh. He recorded his second double-double of the year with 12 points and 12 rebounds.

The 6-foot-10, 230-pound Okolue has two years of eligibility remaining after coming to DelState from Northwest Florida Junior College. In his sophomore year in junior college, Okolue averaged a double-double with 13 points and 11 rebounds.

The one thing Okolue has struggled with is foul trouble this season. He fouled out of DSU’s overtime loss to Delaware and was on the bench for most of the second half against UMBC when the Hornets let a first-half lead slip away.

“When he’s in the game, we’re a much better basketball team,” Walker said. “He tends to get himself in foul trouble a lot. Once he gets his minutes, he’s very productive. We have to utilize him a little better. We have to get better control of that.”

‘Noles’ DSU win questioned

Delaware State’s football program found itself part of a little controversy this week.

The matter concerns the Hornets’ 77-6 loss at Florida State on Nov. 18.

That victory helped the Seminoles finish 6-6 and earn a spot in the Independence Bowl on Wednesday.

In order to be bowl eligible, Division I FBS teams have to have at least a .500 record. And in order for a win over an FCS program to count toward that record, the FCS team has to have at least 90 percent of its players on scholarship.

But, according to research done by Reddit College Football, DSU averages having only about 87 percent of its players on scholarship.

While technically that might make Florida State ineligible to play in a bowl game, the Seminoles were still expected to face Southern Miss as scheduled.

“This is a matter between the NCAA, Florida State and Delaware State,” Independence Bowl spokesman Stefan Nolet told the Orlando Sentinel. “We’re continuing preparations for our game.”

Hornets sign three

DelState doesn’t have a full-time head football coach right now but the Hornets still signed three high school recruits on Wednesday.

Running back Quadir Gibson (Glen Mills, Pa.), two-way standout Khan Jamal (Lansdale, Pa.), and defensive back Mohamet Thiam (Union City, N.J.) accepted scholarship offers from the Hornets on the NCAA’s new early signing day.

A 6-foot, 240 pound back, Gibson rushed for nearly 3,000 yards and 24 touchdowns in three varsity seasons at The Glen Mills School. Jamal was a star running back and defender (DB/LB) at Plymouth Whitemarsh High School and later North Penn in Pa.

Thiam was a football and track & field star at Union City High School. He combined for 65 tackles, five interceptions and two punt blocks during his junior and senior seasons.

Wesley’s Gono an all-star

Wesley College offensive tackle Matt Gono will get to see how he stacks up against some top-level college football players.

The senior has accepted an invitation to play in the seventh annual NFL Players Association Collegiate Bowl on Jan. 20 at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, Calif.

“We are so proud of Matt,” said Wesley coach Mike Drass. “We can’t wait for Matt to have an opportunity to compete against Division I talent. Matt is a special player with a bright professional future.”

A Gagliardi Trophy semifinalist, Gono was named a first-team All-American by the American Football Coaches Association and the Asssociated Press and a third-team All-American by D3football.com.

Gono did not allow a sack this season. Several NFL Draft scouting websites have the 6-foot-4, 310-pounder ranked as one of the top guards/tackles entering the draft this year.

Hens over family

Delaware football coach Danny Rocco admitted that recruiting the son of a rival team’s coach was a little unusual.

“I was not invited into his home,” Rocco joked.

In fact, the Trainer family must have liked Rocco and his staff just fine. On Wednesday, Liam Trainer, a 6-foot-2, 235-pound inside linebacker from La Salle College High outside Philadelphia, ended up accepting a scholarship to play for the Blue Hens.

What makes the signing interesting is that Trainer’s father, Joe, is the defensive coordinator and linebackers coach at Delaware rival Villanova.

In the end, Rocco said the unique situation wasn’t that big a deal. Rocco said he never lost sight of the fact that, underneath it all, Joe Trainer is a father first.

“I was able to look at it like that from the very beginning,” said Rocco. “As I have felt through my life, if you want to do a favor for me, do something for my kids — don’t do something for me.

“Nobody was more excited or more appreciative than that family for this opportunity. They truly get it.”

Notes

• Former Polytech High standout Juwan Gray has played in all 11 games for San Diego’s men’s basketball team as the Toreros are off to an 8-3 start. Gray is averaging 21.2 minutes and five points per contest.

• Todd Hughes, a Smyrna native, has started all 13 games for Virginia Union and is the men’s basketball team’s third-leading scorer with 10.2 points per game. Hughes, now a senior, played the first two years of his college basketball career at Delaware State before transferring.

• Alita Anderson (Woodbridge High) has appeared in nine games for the Marquette women’s basketball team with a season-high six rebounds in a game. Anderson has scored 12 points this season.

• Delaware basketball signee Ithiel Horton will be playing at Slam Dunk to the Beach this coming week with his Roselle Catholic, N.J. squad.
Roselle’s second game is against Smyrna on Dec. 28 in the tournament at Cape Henlopen High.

• The Wesley College men’s basketball team has won three of its last four games to get its record back to 4-6. The Wolverines are in the middle of a 10-game Christmas break and don’t play again until Dec. 30.

Wesley’s next home game isn’t until Jan. 10.

Staff writers Tim Mastro and Andy Walter contributed to this story.

Reach the Delaware State News newsroom at newsroom@newszap.com

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