Branches of the Bobby Cremins coaching tree will meet Wednesday when James Madison opens the 2020-21 college basketball season against Division II Limestone at the brand new Atlantic Union Bank Center.
First-year JMU coach Mark Byington spent nine seasons as an assistant at College of Charleston under Cremins, who won 579 games in his career as a head coach at Appalachian State, Georgia Tech and Charleston. Cremins earned legendary status winning three ACC titles and making 10 NCAA Tournament appearances at Georgia Tech.
Also on Cremins’ staff at College of Charleston was Kyle Perry, who played for Cremins at Georgia Tech and went on to become a Division I head coach at USC Upstate before taking over at Limestone in Gaffney, S.C., last season. While Perry was at USC Upstate, current JMU assistant Jon Cremins, Bobby’s nephew. was also on the staff.
When JMU’s original opening day opponent, Lancaster Bible College, had to cancel after positive COVID-19 tests within its program, the connections paid off.
“We’ve known each other for a long time,” Perry said. “They had called me and at the time I really couldn’t do it. But yesterday both of our first two games got canceled, so I called them back and we were able to work it out.”
The Dukes will still open the season with a non-Division I opponent, though Byington doesn’t want to underestimate anyone.
“A lot of those Division II programs down there are similar to smaller D-I’s,” Byington said. “They play some good basketball and have some good teams.”
Limestone went 4-24 and 3-17 in the Carolinas Conference last season, but Perry is looking to make a quick turnaround with the Saints as new members of the South Atlantic Conference, bringing in 16 newcomers including a pair of Division I transfers and two junior college transfers.
“I inherited a lot of kids and you don’t always know what you are getting,” Perry said. “As a result, we had a tough year last year. We felt like there were changes we needed to make and we made those. It’s a huge turnover, but I really like our kids we have here now.”
Stephen Edoka, a 6-5 swingman who played two seasons at UNC Asheville, will step into the Saints lineup. Edoka was a significant contributor for Asheville as a freshman, but played in just four games his sophomore year before leaving for Limestone.
The Saints also added Ayo Dada, a 6-2 guard who played 13 games making one start last season at Bryant. Prior to that Dada averaged 10 points per game at Eastern Florida State College in one of the top JUCO conferences in the nation.
Sharpshooting 5-9 guard Tiyon Martin and 6-7 forward Jordan Cross were each potential Division I prospects coming out of JUCO last year and are also new to the mix at Limestone. Cross was a three-star recruit coming out of Millwood High School near Richmond and had offers from Hofstra and Drexel before going the JUCO route.
It’s been a whirlwind weekend for the Dukes, who found out Friday morning Lancaster Bible College, which was also scheduled to play VMI and Radford in upcoming weeks, was shutting down its program for the rest of the semester.
But JMU immediately got to work looking for a replacement to help open up its new $140 million arena. The Dukes noon tipoff against Limestone will be the first of two games at the AUBC that day with the JMU women taking on Mount St. Mary’s at 4 p.m.
Limestone had early season games against Mars Hill and Lenoir-Rhyne postponed and instead will open the season against a pair of Colonial Athletic Association foes. After playing at JMU, the Saints will return to South Carolina and take on College of Charleston on Nov. 28.
The Dukes have a busy opening week scheduled with home games against Norfolk State (Nov. 27) and Radford (Nov. 29) also on the docket.