College Basketball Preview: Woolbright leads Catamounts

Justin Gray heads into his second season at Western Carolina

Former Wake Forest guard Justin Gray was named the new coach at Western Carolina, replacing Mark Prosser. Prosser left to take the job at Winthrop, where Gray was previously an assistant. (Caitlin Penna / WCU Communications)

Western Carolina finished in last place in the Southern Conference last season and was winless on the road in conference play. In coach Justin Gray’s first season, the team suffered its seventh losing campaign in the last eight years, third 20-loss season and fifth 10-loss conference record over that span. It’s back to the drawing board as Gray brings in 11 new players and a new assistant coach for this season.

2021-22 record: 11-21 (5-13 Southern Conference)

Top players: The Catamounts only return four players, but they’re all seniors or super seniors with starting experience. Vonterius Woolbright was the team’s second-leading scorer and rebounder at 9.7 points and 5.8 rebounds. He also led WCU in assists with 3.9 per game. Cam Bacote was third on last year’s team at 8.1 points per game. Tyler Harris (7.2 points and 4.1 rebounds) and Marlow Gilmore (5.6 points, 4.8 rebounds) complete the core of returnees.

Key additions: The Catamounts add six freshmen and five transfers. Russell Jones Jr. arrives after three years at Winthrop, where he played for Gray — then an assistant — for his first two years. He’s joined by transfers 6-foot-9 forward Colin Granger (Ohio), 6-foot-8 forward Bernard Pelote (Catawba), 6-foot guard Tre Jackson (Iowa State) and Tyzhaun Claude (Morehead State).

Departed players: Nick Robinson led the team in scoring at 14.1 points and rebounding at 7.3 rebounds. Joe Petrakis (8.0 points) was the team’s leading 3-point shooter. Marcus Banks (7.7 points) also departs. Robinson graduated. Petrakis transferred to Illinois State and Banks will play at Odessa College this year.

Expectations: Gray has plenty of new faces on this year’s team, including assistant coach Ryan Lightfoot, who was hired to replace Brian Graves. The team has a long way to go to get to respectability, but Gray has four solid returning players to build around. A reasonable expectation would be to make a move toward the middle in the SoCon standings.