Friday, October 22, 2021

Furman hoops set for challenging schedule

Furman coach Bob Richey Photo courtesy of Furman

College basketball season begins in less than three weeks and the Furman men's team will be facing one of its toughest schedules in recent memory. The slate is highlighted by trips to Louisville (Nov. 12), North Carolina (Dec. 14) and Mississippi State (Dec. 17), The non-conference schedule includes traditional mid-major powers Belmont (Nov. 15), Radford (Nov. 19), College of Charleston (Dec. 3) and Winthrop (Dec. 7).

After opening against Division II North Greenville on Nov. 9, the Paladins won't face another non-Division I opponent the rest of the season. It's the fewest amount of non-Division I foes on a Furman schedule in 14 years. Outside of Western Carolina - which has only four non-conference home games - every other Southern Conference team plays at least two.

In addition to North Greenville, Radford and Charleston, Furman's non-conference home schedule includes Navy (Nov. 21), Appalachian State (Dec. 10) and Presbyterian (Dec. 21).

"We're excited about the schedule. Coach (Jeremy) Growe's done an excellent job being the point man on it," Furman coach Bob Richey said. "We've got some really good programs that are really going to challenge us and prepare us for the league schedule."

In this era of the transfer portal gone wild, some mid-major coaches may have trepidation about scheduling teams from power conferences for fear of it turning into an audition for their top players. After scoring 15 points in Furman's 83-80 loss at Alabama last year, Noah Gurley transferred to the Crimson Tide shortly after the season.

Richey said he has no such apprehension.

"I'm just a believer that you control what you can control and let the rest take care of itself. There were 1,800 players in the portal last year. That's a little south of six per school," Richey said. "That's just the world we're in right now. It's something we're all going to have to figure out ways to navigate, but the schedule isn't factored in."

Timmons Arena has proven to provide quite a home court advantage for Furman the last few seasons. After limited crowds due to COVID-19 protocols last season, the Paladins are undoubtedly hopeful that Timmons can get back to those special atmospheres again this season.

Furman is slated for three SoCon games at its home away from home, the Bon Secours Wellness Arena, in downtown Greenville. Richey still hopes to play more there in the future, specifically non-conference games.

"We've tried to pull some high-majors into The Well, but haven't been able to get anybody to do it," Richey said. "It's unfortunate because I think it could be really good for the Upstate, South Carolina and college basketball to use that facility.

"To have four teams playing there on a Friday night during football season would be really fun. ... It's the tough part of scheduling, but we're going to keep trying."

Offices receive upgrade

Construction to renovate and expand spaces for the men's and women's basketball teams is set to wrap up this fall. The $3 million worth of upgrades came about entirely through private donations made by former players and fans of the program.

In the past, players and coaches shared the same meeting space. Now there will be separate rooms for teams and coaches and a separate film room. Locker rooms are also being upgraded. Richey said these improvements are impactful on multiple levels.

"Usually when a recruit comes to campus, the first place they go to is the office. It's your first impression point," Richey said. "It's your area you work in every day as a staff and it's also a space to show what your program's about."

Locker room improvements include an expansion, an improved lounge for players, a fueling station for nutrition and upgraded showers and bathrooms. All of this work is the first phase of a comprehensive plan to improve Timmons Arena.

"It gives our players and staff the best learning and working environment possible. That's a really important piece to me," Richey said. "You can't have bottom third facilities with top third expectations. It just doesn't work like that."

Assistants promoted

Richey announced the promotion of two assistants this offseason - Jeremy Growe and Daniel Fowler. Set to begin his third season on Richey's staff, Growe has been promoted to associate head coach. Fowler, a former standout player who's been the program's recruiting director the past three seasons, has been promoted to assistant to the head coach.

Televised games

Furman is set to appear in two of the five SoCon games that will be carried by ESPN's family of networks this season. The Paladins' game at UNCG on Jan. 5 will air on ESPNNEWS, while their game at ETSU on Feb. 7 will by carried by ESPNU. Other Furman games already announced for national television are Louisville (ACC Network Extra), North Carolina (ESPN2) and Mississippi State (SEC Network).

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