BOILING SPRINGS – The Gardner-Webb men's basketball team is in the midst of on-campus preparation for its upcoming foreign tour and mission trip to the Dominican Republic.
The Runnin' Bulldogs are scheduled to depart for Juan Dolio, Dominican Republic, on July 27 and will return to campus on August 1 in advance of the fall semester. The trip is Gardner-Webb's second since 2011, when the 'Dogs traveled to Nassau, Bahamas, for a series of games.
The NCAA allows programs to embark on a foreign summer tour once every four years.
This year's journey, hosted by SCORE International, involves more than basketball – as the team and staff will engage in a host of ministry opportunities and conduct humanitarian relief projects in a region of great need.
SCORE (Share Christ Our Redeemer Enterprises) shares that its vision is to glorify God through missions in obedience to the Great Commission.
"This trip is a once in a lifetime experience for our players and staff," said head coach Tim Craft, who has directed his Runnin' Bulldogs to 55 wins and three-straight winning seasons since taking over the program. "We are thrilled about the opportunity to grow as a team – on and off the court – while focusing on servant leadership and outreach in the Dominican Republic."
Juan Dolio, Dominican Republic, is a coastal fishing village with a population of close to 2,500 – located on the Caribbean Sea only 31 miles from the capital city of Santo Domingo.
From a basketball standpoint, the trip allows a great jumpstart to the 2016-2017 season for a talented team. Gardner-Webb is allowed 10 full practices this month to prepare for the trip and will play three exhibition games against national and professional teams from the Dominican Republic during the six-day tour.
Gardner-Webb returns seven letter winners and two redshirt freshmen from last season, headlined by All-Big South forward Tyrell Nelson (6-7, 235, Sr.). The Charlotte, N.C., native averaged 14.2 points and 7.6 rebounds per game last season – and shot a sizzling 59.0 percent in league games.
Nelson, who gained international experience playing for Athletes in Action last summer in the Philippines, will be joined in the front court as a senior by fast-rising center L'Hassane Niangane (6-10, 240, Jr.), sturdy postman Brandon Miller (6-6, 250, R-So.) and bouncy forward DJ Laster (6-6, 210, So.) from last year's team. Newcomer Patrick Zeck (6-7, 225, Fr.) adds scoring to the mix inside after a standout career at Marist (Ga.) High in Atlanta.
The backcourt must replace scoring punch with the graduation of four regulars on the wing – but has a rising star in point guard Laquincy Rideau (6-1, 210, So.) to lead the way in 2016-2017. Rideau ranked among the NCAA leaders with 67 steals as a freshman – doing so in just 15.8 minutes per game.
A physical, fast penetrator, Rideau is also a capable scorer who should increase his production in that area as a second-year man. The West Palm Beach, Fla., native is also a very gifted passer who has already shown the ability to run the offensive and distribute effectively.
Jamaal Robateau (6-5, 185, R-Jr.) and David Efianayi (6-2, 180, R-So.) also return and both have the potential to make a significant jump in the scoring column. Redshirts Justin Jenkins (6-2, 200, R-Fr.) and Eric Jamison (6-4, 180, R-Fr.) impressed in practice last season and will push for early playing time as well.
Gardner-Webb added plenty of backcourt help through recruiting, including sharpshooter Liam O'Reilly (6-2, 180, Jr.) from Collin College in Texas – also the alma mater of former GWU three-point ace Kevin Hartley (2011-2013). Highly-regarded point guard Christian Turner (5-10, 180, Fr.) from Sandy Creek (Ga.) High and athletic wing Nate Johnson (6-4, 195, Fr.) from McArthur (Fla.) High round out a strong recruiting class in the backcourt.