The Wildcats begin their tenure in the Western Athletic Conference this season with a new-ish head coach and one of last year’s biggest upsets of the NCAA Tournament under their belt. This momentum will carry over to their new home in a new supercharged WAC. But they will be challenging for the conference title under new leadership, since longtime head coach Joe Golding was selected by UTEP for the same role.
Golding started his time in Abilene in the assistant ranks before taking over in 2011 while the program was still playing in the Lone Star Conference (NCAA Div. II). He took the program to two NCAA Tournament appearances, hanging around a little longer each time. Taking over for Golding is long time Assistant turned Associate Head Coach Brette Tanner, who joined the program in 2013. He has been a key part of the program in building a mid-major power in the Southland and hopes to continue that notion in the WAC.
Brette Tanner (1st Season)
At Abilene Christian:
24-5 Overall, 13-2 Southland Conference
NCAA Tournament-No. 14 Seed, (1-1)
Southland Conference Tournament Champions:
2019 & 2021
Joe Pleasant 6-8, Jr. F(Transferred to Wichita State)
Kolton Kohl 7-0, R-Sr. C (Graduated)
Clay Gayman 6-6, Jr. F (Transferred to Drury (D-II)
Furaha Cadeaux de Diegu 6-8, Jr. F (NMMI)
Yuot Gai 7-0, Jr. F (South Plains College)
Stevie Smith 6-6, Jr. G (College of Sou. Idaho)
Leonardo Bettiol 6-8, Fr. F (Roncade, Italy)
Ja’Sean Jackson 6-1, Fr. G (San Antonio, TX)
Predicted WAC Finish
Though the Wildcat’s post play will look a bit different from last season with plenty of new faces, the same hard nose backcourt led by their trio of seniors is a great foundation for first-year head coach Brette Tanner to build with. Senior guard and lead assist man from last season (4.4 APG), Reggie Miller returns to call the shots. Southland Conference Tournament MVP Damien Daniels (6.1 PPG, 2.5 APG, 2.0 SPG & 1.9 RPG) and third-team all Southland selection Coryon Mason (10.6 PPG, 2.4 APG, 2.2 RPG & 1.0 SPG) should round out the starting lineup with a couple of different options for Tanner in the front-court.
The front-court may be the Wildcat’s biggest question mark at the moment, as junior forward Airion Simmons is the only returning player with any sizable playing time in the paint (6.0 PPG, 4.0 RPG & 1.1 SPG in 15.1 MPG). The squad also loses three of their top four scorers in big man Kolton Khol (11.9 PPG, led the team) and Joe Pleasant (10.5 PPG).
The Wildcats have several key additions from the junior college ranks and a freshman with International experience in Leonardo Bettiol (10.0 PPG & 9.0 RPG w/Italian National Team). It was a busy offseason and there are plenty of players for Tanner to experiment with.
ACU was one of the toughest defensive teams in the country last season. A key factor in their performance was then-associate head coach Brette Tanner who is now the head coach for the upcoming 2021-22 campaign. The Wildcats were the top-ranked team for defensive turnover percentage, No. 26 defensive adj. efficiency and No. 2 in non-steal turnover percentage, per KenPom. That defensive tenacity should be on full display this season, and with questions in the front-court as well as who is going to put up points on the scoreboard this season, defense may be the teams anchor to lean on.
This WAC era Wildcat squad will compete in the top half of the conference in 2021-22. But with a new leader and new faces in key areas, there is plenty of unknowns at the moment for Abilene Christian.
Projected Starting Lineup:
G-Reggie Miller, 6’0 150
G-Damien Daniels, 5’7 140
G-Coryon Mason, 6’0 190
F-Furaha Cadeaux de Diegu, 6’8 220
F-Yuot Gai, 7’0 210
The Wildcats are currently set to partake in the Baha Mar Hoops Nassau Championship, tipping off on Nov. 22nd in Bahamas. The rest of the field includes Charlotte, Drexel, Jacksonville State, Toledo, Tulane and Valparaiso.
The Wildcats are Bahamas bound this fall! ACU will participate in the @BahaMarHoops Nassau Championship Nov. 22-24. #GoWildcatshttps://t.co/dxb47zw7O8
— ACU Basketball (@ACU_MBB) July 30, 2021