McGrath tries to get Seahawks to turn corner

In his third season in Wilmington, the former UNC assistant believes his team is coming together

Coach C.B. McGrath starts his third season at UNC Wilmington convinced the Seahawks are ready to take a step forward. (Daniel Lin / Daily News-Record Via AP)

Coming off back-to-back 20-loss seasons and with star big man Devontae Cacok now playing for the South Bay Lakers of the NBA’s G League, UNC Wilmington basketball coach C.B. McGrath needed all the good news he could get heading into his third season with the Seahawks.

And he got some recently, courtesy of the NCAA, which granted waivers that will allow transfers Mike Okauru and John Bowen to be eligible immediately rather than having to wait until next season to play.

Shooting guard Okauru is a former four-star prospect who started his career at Florida. Bowen is a 6-foot-7 wing from Belmont Abbey. The North Carolina natives are just two of the seven newcomers (including four veteran transfers) McGrath is counting on to help turn things around and finally get his program headed in the right direction.

The other two transfers are 6-foot-8, 255-pound German Marten Linssen from Valparaiso, who will be asked to do the bulk of the heavy lifting on the low post, and 6-5 graduate student Carter Skaggs, who averaged 7.1 points per game at his former school, Washington State.

Despite having only five returning players from last year’s team, McGrath said that the Seahawks are “ahead of the curve” when it comes to building chemistry and learning to play together thanks to an exhibition trip the team took to Italy this summer.

UNCW split its two games overseas. But according to the former North Carolina assistant — whose current team will host the Tar Heels at Trask Coliseum on Friday — the results were secondary to the bonding experience the tour provided.

“I think they got to know each other a lot more in a foreign country where you can’t use your phones 24/7 and you’re staying nine days away from home, with your teammates, so that really helped,” McGrath told the UNCW student newspaper, The Seahawk. “They all want one thing, and they all want this program to be successful. When everybody’s on the same page, it seems like everything is meshing better than it has.”

As much as the Seahawks will miss Cacok, who led the nation in field goal percentage as a sophomore, rebounding as a junior and double-doubles as a senior, this year’s team won’t be without its share of star power.

The difference between Cacock and sophomore point guard Kai Toews is that while the former was a finisher, the latter is a distributor with the ability to make everyone on the court with him better.

Toews, a 6-2 native of Tokyo, Japan, set a school record with 253 assists as a freshman last season. His average of 7.7 assists per game ranked him second in the nation behind only first round NBA draft pick Ja Morant of Murray State.

Of the other returners, junior guard Ty Gadsden is the top scorer at 11.5 points per game. Junior guard Jay Estime averaged 7.5 points per game as a starter, and sophomore wing Jaylen Simms averaged 5.7 points and 3.0 rebounds mostly off the bench.