"It was a good first...opening night," said Donnie Jones of his first night in front of many families and friends from the Huntington and Point Pleasant area where Jones grew up. "This was a night for our guys to have fun, and for the fans to get to meet these new guys and see the old guys. It was great to see everybody out and see a lot of familiar faces." One of the old guys was Darryl Merthie, who won the three-point contest by knocking down 17-of-25 shots. That is a far cry from last season for the junior, who hit only 12-of-69 for the season, shooting just 17 percent.
In this practice, Merthie looked like the player originally recruited by Jones at Florida before coming to Marshall and sitting out the 2005-06 season for academic reasons. "A lot of hard work this summer paid off," said Merthie, a native of Lake Mary, Florida. "Instead of going home for a vacation, I decided to stay here and work on my game." Merthie averaged over 30 points per game as a high school player in the Sunshine State. "It's all paying off. Back when I was in high school (Jones) recruited me, back when I was a scoring machine. When I came here, I had a little let down but coach told me this summer to work hard and everything would be alright. My shots are going to come, and I have to knock them down." Sitting out a full season is a very tough way for a freshman to spend his first year in college, and Merthie knows that also affected his play. "It's tough, it's real tough to sit out a year. College is a fast-paced game, and if you're not in shape and not on your game, it's going to be hard on you. It's all going to payoff here, and we can't wait for that first exhibition game."
One of the new players who made an impression was former Gonzaga player Pierre-Marie Altidor Cespedes. The designated point guard for the Herd out-jumped a number of other players to win the slam dunk contest, judged by the fans for the first time. Mark Dorris was very close behind, hitting both of his dunks also. Dorris led all players in scoring in the 15 minutes, running-clock scrimmage before the skill contests, while Markel Humphrey , who knocked down two of three dunks, was second in scoring with seven points including one three. Tyler Wilkerson chipped in six points, and also hit 11-for-25 in the three-point shooting, something Jones is going to ask the 6-foot-8, 240-pound power forward to do this season.
Wilkerson went overseas during the summer, playing ten games in Taiwan with Athletes in Action, scoring in double figures in a number of games with players from West Virginia, Miami-Ohio and other colleges in the U.S. "It was a real good experience," said Wilkerson, who averaged nearly four points and six rebounds per game against Conference USA opponents as a true freshman. "It was good for the spiritual side and the athletic side, playing against college and pro players from all over." Wilkerson is excited about getting going with this years team and likes the way Jones and his staff are pushing the players. "Coach has been working us hard every day, and it all seems to be coming together." Wilkerson said one word tells you all you need to know about the new coaching staff.
"Intensity. The practices are a lot more intense than last year. They just stay on you all practice, with constructive criticism. They talk about you all practice, but then they pick you up." Wilkerson also is excited about having a coach like Darren Tillis, who played center professionally in both Europe and the NBA, for the Boston Celtics, Cleveland Cavaliers and the Golden State Warriors. "He's a joy to be around. To learn from him has been great. We know he's been been in the trenches, he's been where we want to go. He'll allow us to stretch our games further than we ever thought we could."
Dorris was really impressed with the crowd and hopes to see more and more Herd fans making their way back to the Henderson Center as his senior year is here. "This was one of the best crowds for this event that I've seen," said Dorris, who scored double-figures in 16-of-17 games down the stretch last season. "I hope we have big crowds, because as players we feed off of that. As a senior, I want us to leave a legacy of getting these fans back and getting the team back to winning. Whatever I have to do to get there I'll do, staying late, working on shooting, whatever." Humphreys echoed his teammate about tonight's turnout. "It was nice," said the All-C-USA junior. "We came out to have a good time and have fun, and I hope we showed the crowd a good time tonight." Practice will start tomorrow with double dips, and the Herd's leading scorer hopes the crowds keep coming. "It will be a big advantage for the home team and a big disadvantage for the visiting team. If we can get some wins, I think we will get even bigger crowds."
Before the basketball team took the court, the Herd volleyball team dropped a 3-2 loss to UAB to lose for the first time this season in front of a good crowd of 737 at the start, but well over 1,000 by the end as hoop fans made their way to the Henderson Center. The Herd fell behind 0-2 to start, rallied to win 30-26, 30-26 in games three and four but lost the fifth set, 15-13, in match that featured 15 ties in five games and Marshall only being ahead by more than five on three occasions in any of the games.
Head coach Mitch Jacobs was disappointed in the way his team opened the match. "We didn't really play in games one and two. The way we passed the ball tonight I was surprised we got game three. We got it to game five, then it's anybodies game but we shouldn't have to play that team in a fifth game." Elizabeth Fleming had 59 assists, but in the first game was called for some early double-touches, and it affected her play. "She told me she couldn't get that out of her head. Liz hadn't had a freshman night, but she had one tonight. In another year, those things won't even phase her, but now things still phase her. We can't let this bother us for long, because we've got Memphis on Sunday." Herd volleyball, now 6-1 in C-USA and 13-8 overall. The Herd is in a tie with Tulane for first and will host Memphis in the Henderson Center Sunday at 1 p.m. The Tigers are 15-7, 4-2 in C-USA play.