Charlotte’s second-year coach, Ron Sanchez, honed his craft for decades as an assistant to Tony Bennett. So it’s only natural that the 49ers’ improvement would be slow and methodical.
Sanchez took over a team that had finished the previous season 6-23 and 2-16 in Conference USA. On paper, the team didn’t take a major step forward, going 8-21 last season. Charlotte improved to five conference wins, but the 49ers still finished second to last and weren’t allowed to participate in the CUSA postseason tournament.
Still, there were signs of progress that didn’t necessarily translate to wins and losses.
Charlotte gave up 68.7 points per game last year, which was 11 points lower than its 2017-18 average, as Sanchez began installing the defensive schemes that have made Virginia one of the toughest teams in the nation to face.
The team also returns a solid core this season to help accelerate the progress.
Leading rebounder Milos Supica is one of three starters and six key contributors to return this season. The forward averaged 4.7 rebounds and 7.5 points while hitting 52.5 percent from the field as a sophomore.
Supica is joined by sophomore guard Malik Martin, who averaged 9.4 points and 4.1 boards last year, and Cooper Robb (6.8 points, 3.9 rebounds). Reserves Brandon Younger and Bo Blight are also expected to take on expanded roles this season.
The team will also get a boost from Jordan Shepherd, who sat out all of last season after transferring from Oklahoma. The former Sooners point guard learned the system in practice and should be ready to step in. Shepherd scored 16 points with five assists in an exhibition game against Georgia.
Another addition who never really left is Luka Vasic, who missed all of last season with a knee injury.
Tyler Bertram will make his college debut after redshirting last season. He will give the 49ers an outside threat after setting his high school’s record for 3-point shooting. Bertram scored eight against the Bulldogs.
The 49ers also add a pair of grad transfers in Amidou Bamba, a forward from Coastal Carolina, and guard Drew Edwards from Providence.
Sanchez signed a five-man freshman class that includes Brice Williams, son of Charlotte basketball legend Henry.
Guard Jahmir Young also shows promise. He put up 14 points in the Georgia exhibition.
More importantly for the 49ers was the 15-0 run that the team went on against the Bulldogs, showing a flash of just how potent Sanchez’s defense can be once the team gets it down pat. Charlotte forced 18 turnovers in the game, scoring 26 points off of them.
“We have a lot of new guys,” Sanchez said after the Georgia game, which the Bulldogs pulled out in the second half. “To be under the lights against an opponent of that caliber was great for us. Overall, I think that there are some things we need to improve on. There were things we did well. We’ll watch the film. We’ll learn. We’ll grow.”
Slow and steady. Sanchez wouldn’t have it any other way.