BIRMINGHAM, Ala. – The Samford men’s basketball team opens the 2021-22 season Tuesday evening at 7 p.m. against Maryville College in the Pete Hanna Center. Assistant AD for Broadcast and Digital Media Jon McAfoos recently sat down with Head Coach Bucky McMillan for the 2021-22 season preview presented by Coca-Cola.
This is McMillan’s second season in charge of the program. With his first season being interrupted several times due to COVID-19, McMillan said heading into this season it feels more like a normal basketball season.
“It just feels like it’s a lot more back to normal,” McMillan said. “It just feels good to practice and you see momentum building, that’s fun. Not, two practices and then you’re off for two weeks or these four guys are hurt, or these guys are hurt. We’ve dealt with injury here recently, but before that we put together a good string of some practices that were good.”
McMillan said though his first season was trying, he has enjoyed his time at Samford and is looking forward to building a program at the school.
“My experience here at Samford has been phenomenal,” McMillan said. “I love the people here, and I think we’re going to do great things here. Myself, our assistant coaches, we love coming to work here every day. Our players have done a great job since they got here in June of coming in and going to work in their own right.”
McMillan and his staff brought in several transfers to the program this season. Ques Glover (Florida), Jaden Campbell (Florida Southwestern), Jermaine Marshall (Akron), Angel Smith (Southern Mississippi), Cooper Kaifes (Loyola-Chicago) and Daniel Lobach (Rutgers) all joined the program this season. McMillan talked a little about those players.
“This is a year where players got a year back, and rightfully so because of the Corona virus circumstances,” McMillan said. “So, these guys that transferred, all of them are sophomores or below. The great part is, we’ve got a great foundation to build with.
“Cooper Kaifes is just an awesome player, smart player, comes from a winning program that played deep in the NCAA Tournament before,” McMillan said. “I’ve known Jermaine Marshall since he was 15 years old. He’s the hardest playing player I may have ever seen play basketball. Ques Glover, offensively at times you watch him play and go I’d pay to watch him play offense sometimes. I’m on him about his defense, he’s going to be in there to play that offense, but he’s going to have to keep getting better and better and better on defense. But he’s very coachable and wants to improve on that aspect, and when he does that, we’re going to have a really dang good player.
“Jaden Campbell, he’s been great too,” McMillan said. “He played with Jermaine Marshall at Florida Southwestern, they were the No. 1 team in the country at one point. So, they’ve seen what winning looks like. Jaden fits playing really fast and up-and-down, and so does Ques Glover. I coached against Ques in high school, so I knew him before Florida. I remember in high school we threw everything we had at him, and he still had about 30 points on us. So, these guys are guys I’m familiar with and it’s good to have guys you’re familiar with in the program.”
In addition to the transfers, freshman Wesley Cardet, Jr. was the 60th-ranked player in the nation coming out of high school. McMillan said, in time, Cardet will have a major impact on the program.
“I don’t like putting too much pressure on any freshman,” McMillan said. “I would say that to all Bulldog fans because if you’re coming into it this year with all seniors getting years back, there’s a big age gap. So, I hate putting pressure on freshmen, and he doesn’t need to play with pressure. He’s a great player, phenomenal player, deserving of all the accolades he’s had. He’s going to have a big impact on our team. What I would say his best quality is, his humility and coachability. A lot of times these days when you see guys who are highly touted, they also have an ego that can come with that. He doesn’t have any of that, and that comes from, honestly, great parenting. He understands that hard work equals success and he’s one of our very hardest workers.”
The returners to this year’s team include Logan Dye, Richardson Maitre, Jacob Tryon, Jaron Rillie, A.J. Staton-McCray, Marcellus Vail and Quinn Richey. All those players were significant contributors to the team last season. McMillan talked about the leadership that those returning players provide.
“I think we’ll look back at last year and say we’ve put in more work last year, it really didn’t show up in the win-loss column,” McMillan said. “We had so many games canceled, in building what we want our program to be about. And so those returners who came back, they set the example for the new guys coming in, and it’s going to be a culture of hard work and guys who are unselfish. They’ve all done that. All those players, I think provide great minutes.
“We had some unfortunate circumstances with Logan Dye, he’ll be out for about six weeks with a broken bone in his hand,” McMillan said. “A.J. Staton right now is out indefinitely with a knee injury, but he’s worked really hard to get back. So, we’ll be a little short-handed so everybody’s going to have to fight really hard. Those are two of our leading returning scorers and leading rebounders. The other guys are going to have to step it up and they have in practice.
“Jacob Tryon has gotten a lot stronger in the offseason,” McMillan said. “Marcellus Vail has been great. Jaron Rillie got thrown into the fire last year and he’s improved tremendously since last season. Quinn Richey has had a great fall. I think we have a good nucleus of guys. Young guys and they’re going to make some young mistakes, but they’re going to have some great moments as well.”
The coaching staff also had some changes in the offseason. Mitch Cole and Zach Gillion were added to the staff, while Neb Exantus was promoted to a full-time assistant position.
“I really like our staff,” McMillan said. “We’ve got guys that I’m familiar with and that I know and that’s great. I’ve known Coach Cole since I was 10 years old, and I’ve known Coach (Duane) Reboul since I was about eight years old. So, we kind of come from the same background, our philosophies are very similar. That’s always good when you have like-minded guys that see the game the same way, that see players the same way. Neb Exantus is such a hard-worker, great person to be representing Samford. Great recruiter, relentless, loves it, but very solid person and the players really love him. Zach Gillion is Mr. Energy. I love having Zach here. We have a great staff and I think it’s a staff that, not only are they a good staff, but they want to build it right here at Samford.”
McMillan’s teams play and fast-paced style of basketball. He talked about what fans can expect from the team this season.
“I don’t ever guarantee, we’re winning the conference here or we’re going to win 20 games,” McMillan said. “I’m not saying we’re not and I can promise you in time we’ll do all of those things. But what I can tell you that those that are associated with Samford are going to be really proud watching this team play and represent this university. You’ve got guys here that are high-character guys, they’re going to play really hard and they’re going to play together.
“So, if you come here, you’re going to get to see up and down, exciting basketball versus great competition,” McMillan said. “We’re playing in our league, and in our non-conference we’re playing Ole Miss, we’re playing Oregon State who went to the Elite 8 last year, Belmont at home. So, we’ve got a great schedule and we’ve got a great place to build something. I want fans and everyone to come here and fight with us, because we’re going to need the help. We’re going to need it in the short term especially when we’re a little short-handed.”
To purchase season tickets for Samford men’s basketball, click on the following link: SEASON TICKETS.