The season opener is still 40 days away, but basketball practice has begun at Milligan College.
The Buffs got started Monday with 16 players, including three from the junior-varsity roster. There are also three freshmen and a transfer in the mix, and coach Bill Robinson likes a lot of what he’s seen so far.
“We’re off to a good start,” Robinson said Thursday. “We’ve hired a new strength and conditioning coach, David Land, and you can see the difference right from the beginning of practice.”
One newcomer who stands out is Ignas Palaima, a 6-foot-11 Lithuanian who transferred in from Three Rivers Community College in Missouri.
“That’s one of the top 10 junior colleges in the country,” said Robinson. “This kid is probably 220 pounds, he can run, he can score with his left hand or his right, and he has a little jumper from the foul line.
“He’s struggling a little bit with the academics at Milligan, but we’re helping him to get through some of that.”
Robinson hopes Palaima can complement senior Tyler DeVault, who has put on 10 pounds of muscle in the offseason and will be the team’s primary option in the post.
A local product, John Crowe of Johnson City, has also caught the coach’s eye early. Crowe is a sturdy 6-5 freshman who played at University High.
“He’s a super-hard worker and has really surprised us,” said Robinson. “He’s better than we thought, more athletic than we thought. He’ll be the fifth post on our roster going into this season, but the fifth post will play some.”
Robinson sees another freshman making an immediate impact in Cartree Pettis, a 6-1, 180-pound combination guard from Oveido, Fla.
“He’s a Division I athlete,” said Robinson. “He’s not a big-time scorer, but he plays so well at the defensive end. He’s probably our best on-ball defender already.”
The Buffs will have their first scrimmage in mid-October and then open the season Oct. 30 at Alice Lloyd.
Chris Ochieng continues to make his mark on the soccer pitch.
The senior forward from Kenya scored the Buffs’ lone goal in a 1-0 victory over Virginia Intermont last Saturday. Ochieng now has six goals in seven matches.
Dan Ball also had eight saves for the Buffs, who have won three straight to improve to 5-2 for the season. They’re tied with No. 23 Bryan for the Appalachian Athletic Conference lead, at 3-0, heading into a road match Saturday at Point University.
The women’s volleyball team is also at the top of the conference standings after a three-match winning streak. The Lady Buffs will get a better measure of how they stack up tonight when Columbia College visits Lacy Fieldhouse.
Milligan and Bryan are 3-0 in the AAC, while Columbia is 2-0.
A family tradition will continue with the announcement Wednesday that Grace Ann Moorhouse of Morristown West has signed to play volleyball at Milligan. Moorhouse’s father Jeff, the Morristown West principal, played basketball at Milligan, and her grandfather and great-grandfather were also athletes at the school. Her mother, Carole Grace, was a cheerleader.
The men’s golf team placed all five of its players in the top 20 and won the Tom Kinder Memorial in Harrisonburg, Va., on Monday.
The Buffs came from four shots back after the opening round at Lakeview Golf Club to win by four over Bridgewater College, the host school.
Whit Brown led the way for the Buffs with a 140 total; that was good for second place overall. Hunter O’Neal (143) was fourth and Kody Fawcett (147) was 15th. All three were named to the all-tournament team.
Milligan plays again Sept. 30 in the AAC Fall Championships at Clear Creek Golf Course in Bristol, Va.