Deep, experienced App State looks to make noise in Sun Belt

Team will start season without Michael Bibby

Appalachian State returns 13 players in 2018-19, including leading scorer and first-team All-Sun Belt guard Ronshad Shabazz. (Paul Vernon / AP Photo)

The play looked innocent enough, but it has the potential to change Appalachian State’s season.

“It was one of those things where you had to rewind it 10 times to see what the hell happened,” said Mountaineers coach Jim Fox.

App was playing a scrimmage at practice last month, and Mike Bibby went to the line to shoot free throws.

The sophomore guard sat out last season after transferring from South Florida, and Fox had high hopes that Bibby would provide ball handling and outside shooting to the team. He averaged 2.0 assists per game as a freshman, and his 39 percent accuracy on 3-pointers would have led the team last season.

Fox and the rest of the Mountaineers will have to wait a while to see just what Bibby, the son of 14-year NBA pro Mike Bibby and grandson of nine-year pro Henry Bibby, will bring to the team, however.

“He made the free throw,” Fox said. “Jason (Allison, an assistant) was coaching the other team and called timeout. Mike took two steps back, and — kind of like you do all the time — he rolled his ankle, walking. It happens to me all the time, anyway.”

Bibby went down with a broken bone in his foot and will be out five to eight weeks.

“It’s disappointing for Mike,” Fox said. “Any time it happens, it’s disappointing, but you add on top of that last year, he didn’t get to play. It’s tough to sit that year out.”

Still, Bibby will return, likely before the start of conference play.

“He’s still a big part of what we’re going to do,” Fox said. “I’ve had two conversations with him. The first (right after it happened), it’s tough to know what to say. I love him to death. He’s worked so hard, and this is a detour”

“The second conversation,” Fox added, “I told him to get his butt in gear. No rest. Get this done. Be ready to go. … We need you back. It’s a lot of responsibility.”

Luckily for Fox, App has plenty of options while waiting for Bibby to return. The Mountaineers return 13 players from last year’s team — center Griffin Kinney is the only significant loss.

“I’m pretty confident we have depth, and a lot of it,” Fox said. “It’s very competitive for minutes.”

Chief among the returning players is guard Ronshad Shabazz, who led the team in scoring, with 18.5 points per game, and assists, with 100 on the year. He was named first-team All-Sun Belt.

Shabazz will be joined in the backcourt by sophomore Justin Forrest, who was second on last year’s team with 13.5 points per game and led the squad in steals. His assist-to-turnover ratio of 67-to-95 needs some work, however.

“He’s got to be more efficient offensively,” Fox said. “He’s got to be better with the ball and value the ball more than he did last year.”

Forrest worked on his stamina over the offseason.

“People call him ‘Tank,’ and he kind of is that,” Fox said. “He has to sustain his intensity. He can’t be one player in the first half and another in the second.”

Early results are encouraging. Forrest led the team in scoring with 16 points in an exhibition win over Ferrum. He also added eight rebounds to tie for tops in the game.

Guard depth will be provided by returnees O’Showen Williams (7.8 points, 3.3 assists), Tulsa transfer Joseph Battle and freshman Adrian Delph.

“Adrian has intensity,” Shabazz said. “He won’t back down from anybody. I know this from experience, going head-to-head in practice. He challenges me every day.”

In the frontcourt, App will be led by forwards Tyrell and Isaac Johnson (no relation). Tyrell led last year’s team with 38 blocks, while Isaac’s 8.4 rebounds per game led the team and was fourth in the Sun Belt.

Hunter Seacat, who spent last year backing up the graduated Kinney, is ready to step into the middle.

“Hunter is strong,” Shabazz said. “He’s really active in the paint and finishes well. We haven’t seen much of Hunter, because of Griffin, but he’s been putting in the work.”

Newcomer Breki Gylfason, a freshman from Iceland, will provide depth up front.

With a deep team of versatile players, Fox can shift players from position to position, creating different lineups. The options will only increase when Bibby returns.

“Mike brings basketball IQ. He can make shots and brings a lot of energy,” Fox said. “He’s a coach on the floor.”

Well, he will be. For now, Fox and the rest of the team can only wait for him to return to the floor.