By Duane Cochran
Times West Virginian
Basketball fans can get their first glimpse of the new-look Fairmont State University men’s basketball team as well as the veteran-laden Fairmont State Lady Falcons Tuesday evening at FSU’s first annual Fan Fest, which will be held from 7-9 p.m. at the Joe Retton Arena.
The event is free and open to the public.
Activities get under way at 7 p.m. with a 30-minute meet-and-greet autograph session featuring both teams.
Fan Fest will also feature a 3-point shooting contest for both the men and women, a dunk competition featuring four of FSU’s men’s players and several shooting competitions which the student body can take part in. The men’s squad also plans to scrimmage for 10 to 15 minutes.
First-year FSU head men’s coach Jerrod Calhoun has almost completely rebuilt a Falcon men’s team which finished 8-19 last season and lost seniors Steve Custis, Chris Thompson, Mike Hurd and Erv McFadden.
Joining senior All-America candidate Isaac Thornton, who led the Falcons in both scoring (21.5) and rebounding (6.7) last year, are a plethora of talented newcomers including Brendan Cooper, a 6-7 junior forward who was a first-team National Junior College Athletic Association All-America selection after averaging 17.5 points, 9.0 rebounds and four assists for Lakeland (Ohio) Community College and Isaiah Hill, a 6-9 senior forward who was a third-team NAIA Division I All-America selection at perennial NAIA power Mountain State University where he averaged 13.5 points and 9.9 rebounds last season.
The Falcons also signed senior point guard Malik Stith, a transfer from NCAA Division I St. Johns University and 5-11 sophomore guard Chase Morgan, a transfer from Bluefield State College. Stith appeared in 23 games last season for the Red Storm and made five starts. He averaged 2.6 points per outing. Morgan, meanwhile, was a member of the WVIAC’s All-Freshman Team last season when he averaged 18.8 points and 3.7 assists. He led the nation for freshmen in NCAA Division II in scoring. The Falcons also inked six high school players for this season.
“I think this is a great opportunity to not only get our students out, but also our fans in the community out to get a first look at these guys,” said Calhoun. “Everyone’s heard about them and read about them in the paper and now people will actually get a chance to see them in action for the first time.
“I really wanted to do this event and partner up with the women because I think it’s very important for the community and student body here at Fairmont State to get behind our two teams and programs. This is a night for the fans and a night for our men’s and women’s basketball players to have some fun and meet our fans.
“The season is less than a month away for us and I think it’s important for us to try to get as many fans as possible to come out to the Fan Fest and our season openers because I really believe our teams have the potential to have really good seasons. I know our guys have been working extremely hard. They’ve put in the time in the weight room under the guidance of our strength coach John Marano, who has done an excellent job with them. We’ve had four or five guys add 10 or 12 pounds of good weight and muscle. Our kids are all buying in to what we’re doing here. I just think we’re going to have a great year and this is the first chance for everyone to see us.”
Fairmont State’s Lady Falcons finished 18-10 overall last year and fifth in the 15-team WVIAC. Fairmont’s women return all five starters headlined by 2011-12 conference player of the year Kaitlin Snyder. The senior point guard averaged 21.5 points, 4.6 rebounds and 4.4 assists per game last season for the Lady Falcons.
Fairmont also returns senior guards Tiffany Nicholson (10.5 ppg, 4.6 rpg) and Briana Welch (5.3 ppg) and sophomore forwards Hailey Garrett (14.3 ppg, 6.9 rpg) and Emily Lohr (10.2 ppg, 4.6 rpg), who were both selected to the league’s All-Freshman Team last season. Garrett was also an honorable mention all-conference pick.
“The fun part about Fan Fest is we’re doing it at a good time from 7-9 p.m. and fans, students and families can come out and see our teams and meet the players in an informal setting,” said FSU women’s coach Steve McDonald. “It’s a nice way for us to kickoff the season. There is a great deal of excitement surrounding Fairmont State basketball this year and that’s a good thing.
“Our men’s program is going to be much improved. Coach Calhoun has brought in a number of excellent players and they have big expectations for themselves. As for our program, we have five returning starters and high expectations as well. Tuesday’s event is a great way to generate some excitement both at our school and in the community which we hope will carry on through the season.”
FSU’s women will open the season at home in the WVIAC-PSAC Challenge Classic which will be held Friday, Nov. 9 and Saturday, Nov. 10 at the Joe Retton Arena. Concord and Indiana (Pa.) University will open the classic Nov. 9 at 1 p.m., while FSU tangles with Clarion (Pa.) University at 3 p.m.
On Saturday Nov. 10, Concord and Clarion will battle at 2 p.m. and Fairmont and IUP will square off at 4 p.m.
Fairmont State’s men’s team will open the season immediately following the women’s classic on Saturday, Nov. 10 at 6 p.m. at the Joe Retton Arena when it plays host to Ohio-Eastern University.