Woolbright Headlines Three on Preseason All-SoCon Squad
Western Carolina fifth-year senior Vonterius Woolbright headlined three Catamounts named to the 2023-24 Preseason All-Southern Conference team as he was selected as the SoCon Preseason Player of the Year by the league’s head coaches it was announced Wednesday as the conference descended upon the Harrah’s Cherokee Center Asheville for Media Day.
WCU’s league-best three players on the preseason all-conference team were led by Woolbright and included classmate guards Tre Jackson and Russell Jones Jr. Wednesday’s three selections mark the first Catamounts selected to the preseason All-SoCon squad since Mason Faulkner in the 2020-21 season. The preseason team was selected by the league’s 10 head coaches who were not allowed to vote on their own players.
The Catamounts were also picked third in the preseason coaches poll and were tied with Samford for second place in the preseason media tabulation as both preseason predictions were unveiled in conjunction with the media day activities.
A second-team All-Southern Conference selection and a second-team NABC All-Region honoree in 2022-23, the versatile Woolbright ranked among the league leaders in the three major statistical categories last season. He averaged 14.5 points per game to finish 12th in the SoCon; boarded 7.4 rebounds per game to rank third; and led the SoCon in assists, dishing out an average of 5.1 helpers per game.
Woolbright matched his career-high in scoring with 30 points first set in the double-overtime victory at Wofford and again in WCU’s SoCon tournament semifinal matchup against eventual champion Furman. He finished in double figures 25 times including a stretch of nine-straight and logged eight double-doubles on the season. Among his other seasonal highlights from 2022-23 was posting just the fourth triple-double in Catamount basketball’s NCAA Division I era history with a stat line of 14 points, 11 assists, and 10 rebounds in the regular-season finale against VMI.
Jackson, who was another strong candidate for the league’s top preseason player, led the Catamounts offensively last season, averaging 15.8 points per game to rank fourth in the SoCon. The Columbia, S.C. product led the SoCon in 3-point field goal shooting at 42.6-pecent (113-of-265), 3-point field goals made per game (3.4), and free throw percentage at 88.0-percent (73-of-83). He was a second-team All-SoCon selection and was a NABC second-team All-Region honoree. Jackson scored in double figures 24 times on the year. The sharp-shooting guard etched his name in the WCU record books by scoring a WCU Division I era-best 47 points in a 95-91 double-overtime victory at Wofford in early February, garnering SoCon Player of the Week plaudits on Feb. 13.
Jones Jr., claimed WCU’s third selection to the preseason all-league team, starting all 34 games a season ago. He averaged 9.1 points per game, recording 14 double-figure efforts including consecutive 20-point performances at ETSU (21 points) and against Mercer (23 points). He also drained the game-winning 3-pointer in a home victory over Wofford. A strong defender, Jones Jr. finished fifth in the SoCon with a team-best 1.5 steals per game, swiping a season-best five in the opener at SEC-foe, Georgia.
Furman was the consensus pick to win the 2023-24 Southern Conference title in both preseason polls, receiving 8-of-10 first-place votes from the coaches and 8-of-17 from the voting media. The next three positions were decided between the same three teams in parallel polls but in differing order.
WCU was tagged third in the coaches poll and tied for second with our first-place votes by the media. The coaches ranked UNCG second while the media planted the Spartans in fourth with a pair of first-place nods. Samford was fourth according to the coaches but tied with WCU for second according to the media who lent the Bulldogs one first-place tally.
The two polls mirrored one another from fifth through 10th place with Chattanooga tagged as the highest in the bottom half of the league, followed by Mercer and ETSU sixth and seventh. The final three in the preseason polls are Wofford, The Citadel, and VMI.
The 2023-24 men’s basketball regular season opens on Monday, Nov. 6, with eight of the league’s 10 teams in action – five playing at home and two visiting Power Five programs. WCU opens its quest for a championship the following day, hosting Dalton State on Ingles Court in the Ramsey Center on Tues., Nov. 7, with a 7 p.m. tip-off. The game will be broadcast on ESPN+ (paid subscription required) with live audio from the Catamount Sports Network and live stats available through CatamountSports.com.
Coming off an 18-win season that saw WCU make the program’s fourth postseason appearance, the Catamounts return seven letter winners including four players who started 16 or more games. In addition to the trio of preseason All-SoCon selections, WCU’s lineup returns Benard Pelote (5.5 ppg), DJ Campbell (5.0 ppg), Colin Granger (2.6 ppg), and Marcus Kell (2.5 ppg) among its letter winners. Cinque Lemon of Spring Lake, N.C., is a returning redshirt freshman who was on campus a season ago.
WCU and third-year head coach Justin Gray added four transfers including Charles Lampten (College of Charleston), Kamar Robertson (Mercer), Brandon Scott (Cosumnes River CC), and Corneilous Williams (LSU) and a trio of freshmen – Keyshawn Brown Jr. (Durham, N.C.), Kamari Jones (Indianapolis, Ind.) and Kaleb Siler (Fayetteville, N.C.) – to this year’s lineup.
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2023-24 Southern Conference Preseason Coaches Poll
Furman (8) – 80
UNCG (1) – 68
Western Carolina – 62
Samford – 61
Chattanooga (1) – 53
Mercer – 38
ETSU – 34
Wofford – 24
The Citadel – 21
VMI - 9
2023-24 Preseason Southern Conference Player of the Year Vonterius Woolbright, Sr., G, Western Carolina 2023-24 Preseason All-Southern Conference team Marcus Foster, R-Sr., G, Furman
JP Pegues, Jr., G, Furman
Jalyn McCreary, R-Sr., F, Mercer
Mikeal Brown-Jones, Sr., F, UNCG Keyshaun Langley, Gr., G, UNCG Jermaine Marshall, Sr., F, Samford Honor Huff, So., G, Chattanooga
Tre Jackson, Sr., G, Western Carolina
Russell Jones Jr, Sr., G, Western Carolina
Vonterius Woolbright, Sr., G, Western Carolina
2023-24 Southern Conference Preseason Media Poll
Furman (8) – 153
T2. Western Carolina (4) – 134
T2. Samford (1) – 134
4. UNCG (2) – 126
5. Chattanooga – 107
6. ETSU (1) – 89
7. Mercer (1) – 77
8. Wofford – 54
9. The Citadel – 41
10. VMI - 20