Antoine Pettway restocking Kennesaw State roster to keep momentum

Credit: Photo provided by Kennesaw State

Credit: Photo provided by Kennesaw State

Antoine Pettway had a lot of work to do – immediately.

Upon taking over as the new men’s basketball coach at Kennesaw State last week, Pettway had three of the program’s top players transfer. After leading the program to its first NCAA Tournament appearance, coach Amir Abdur-Rahim left for South Florida and brought along Chris Youngblood, Brandon Stroud and Kasen Jennings. They were the first, fourth and sixth leading scorers on the team that won the ASUN regular-season and conference tournament titles and pushed No. 3-seed Xavier in an NCAA first-round matchup.

“He took a nice chunk over there to South Florida with him,” Pettway joked in a recent interview with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. “Those guys came in as freshman, took their lumps, won some games, and last year they were premier players, and they won the conference with those guys.”

Pettway didn’t stand by idly.

Point guard Terrell Burden and forward Demond Robinson signed on to return. They were the second and third leading scorers last season. Burden is the engine that makes Kennesaw State go. Pettway said he has been impressed with other returners such as guard Quincy Ademokoya, guard Simeon Cottle and forward Cole LaRue.

Kennesaw State signed two high school players, with a third on the way. Etowah point guard Chase Clemmons and Grovetown wing Frankquan Sherman are committed. Newton guard Marcus Whitlock announced on social media that he has committed.

Pettway also found big help via the transfer portal. Guard Rongie Gordon transferred in from Alabama-Birmingham, and forward Jamel King transferred from West Virginia. Gordon can play power forward or center and already knows Robinson. King is a “big-time shooter” and his uncle is Erwin Dudley, the 2002 SEC Player of the Year at Alabama when a teammate of Pettway’s.

“That is the nature of the business we are in with the transfer portal,” Pettway said of the additions and subtractions. “The reason I think this is a really good spot is sometimes these guys go off to schools and when they transfer back, now they are really, really trying to hone in on where they are going to be for the long haul with you. When kids transfer back, it’s a new focus. They’ve gone through the recruiting process, and it didn’t work out the way they wanted. Now they are looking for an opportunity to help a program win.”

Pettway already has started working with his team. Rules allow practice a total of four hours a week.

Kennesaw State figures to be a favorite again in the ASUN, its last season in the conference. Liberty and Jacksonville State have left for Conference USA. It was Liberty that the Owls beat for both the regular-season and tournament titles. Kennesaw State also will join Conference USA the following season.

“They appreciate where they are,” Pettway said of his current roster. “They appreciate what they did last year. They are hungry for more. They know some guys left, and they are going to be really, really missed. We’ve got some guys now who are hungry, know they want to step up and will have an opportunity to step up.”

Pettway just missed out on the Kennesaw State job four years ago when it went to Abdur-Rahim. When it came open again, Pettway jumped at the chance. He reached out to the school to express his interest and soon was hired. Pettway became one of three Alabama assistants under Nate Oats to get a head coaching position this offseason. Pettway said it was “my time” to become a head coach. Kennesaw was the right place and the right time.

“I think this is a sleeping giant,” Pettway said. “This is a really, really good spot. Once I came on campus and met with people on this campus, there are a lot of championship-level people on this campus. We can do some special things. It sold me immediately.”

And now the work continues.