Alcorn basketball out to improve APR rate

Published 11:39 pm Saturday, August 13, 2016

In Montez Robinson’s first season as Alcorn State’s men’s basketball coach, it posted its best record in 15 years and finished second in the Southwestern Athletic Conference.

The only problem was, that was as far as it could go.

The Braves are under NCAA sanctions for their low Academic Progress Rate and ineligible for the postseason. So, heading into this recruiting season, Robinson set out to find players who could put the “student” back in “student-athlete” and get the program headed in the right direction both off the court and on it.

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Robinson and his staff instituted a minimum 2.5 GPA for all of their 2016 recruits. He said Saturday all of them wound up with 2.8 GPAs, including a transfer from Bethune-Cookman who has already graduated with honors.

“When I took the job, we were facing the first year of a postseason ban, so we had to raise the GPA. When I came in, it was at 2.0 and we got to a 2.5. I had six guys with a 3.0 or better and four who were All-SWAC academically. We just want to recruit better student-athletes,” Robinson said at the Alcorn Athletics Meet and Greet, a function hosted at the Holiday Inn by the Vicksburg chapter of the Alcorn State Alumni Association. “It was planned. We’re trying to get off of this APR list we’re on.”

The APR is a metric used by the NCAA that measures eligibility of retention of each Division I program’s student-athletes. Programs that don’t meet certain minimum standards — such as Alcorn’s men’s basketball team in 2014 and 2015 — are subject to penalties like scholarship reductions and postseason bans.

The APR is a rolling scale, and Robinson figures Alcorn will face one more year of sanctions before its improvements show up in the NCAA’s numbers. In the meantime, he said, the Braves will focus on what they can win. They’re still eligible to play for the SWAC championship, even if they don’t get the league’s automatic berth to the NCAA Tournament if they win it.

Alcorn had a 15-15 record last season. That was the first time it has finished .500 or better since the 2001-02 season. That was also the last time it won the SWAC Tournament and advanced to the NCAA Tournament.

“One of the good things about it, is we still have the opportunity to win the regular-season championship and the conference (tournament). We just couldn’t go to the postseason,” Robinson said. “So we’ve got goals and different things we can shoot for, and we’re going to continue to shoot for those things until that opportunity comes.”

Robinson was one of seven Alcorn head coaches who attended the Meet and Greet event. Also on the dais were football coach Fred McNair, women’s basketball’s Courtney Pruitt, track and field’s Brian Johnson, softball’s Josef Rankin, soccer’s Sam Nwaneri and tennis coach Anthony Dodgen.

Each gave a brief rundown of their program to the 100 or so alumni in the audience, and then mingled amongst the crowd shaking hands and talking some more about their respective teams.

McNair, who took over the football program in February when Jay Hopson left for Southern Miss, said he’s appreciated the warm reception he’s received from the Vicksburg alumni chapter and others around Mississippi while working the offseason banquet circuit.

“Just to see everybody support all these events we have on campus is phenomenal. It plays big for us. At least we know we have these guys behind us in everything we do,” said McNair, who himself is an Alcorn alum. “It’s been a great reception for me. These guys came in and took me with open arms. I’m very appreciative of that.”

McNair will begin his first season as head coach on Sept. 4, when he leads the Braves against Bethune-Cookman in the 12th annual MEAC/SWAC Challenge in Daytona Beach, Fla. The home opener is Sept. 10 against Alabama State.

Alcorn has won back-to-back SWAC championships and will be trying for its first three-peat since 1968-70. McNair has implemented a faster pace on both sides of the ball that he hopes will give the team a fresh wrinkle.

“I think it’s something that’s going to speed us up a little bit more. That’s what we’re trying to get to now. Just catch the defense off guard. Sometimes we will. We’re making the right progress and the right steps to do that,” McNair said, before downplaying a comparison between the Braves’ new up-tempo style and its originator, Oregon. “Oregon’s fast. Hopefully we can get to that point. If we can get to that, we’ll be really good.”

About Ernest Bowker

Ernest Bowker is The Vicksburg Post's sports editor. He has been a member of The Vicksburg Post's sports staff since 1998, making him one of the longest-tenured reporters in the paper's 140-year history. The New Jersey native is a graduate of LSU. In his career, he has won more than 50 awards from the Mississippi Press Association and Associated Press for his coverage of local sports in Vicksburg.

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