When J.J. Nganga transferred to Mercer this season, he instantly became the second-tallest player on the team. At 6-foot-10, the former New Mexico Lobo joined a frontcourt manned by 7-foot-1 Andrew Fishler, 6-foot-6 Stephon Jelks and 6-foot-7 Cory Kilby.
The Bears also saw 6-foot-9 Desmond Ringer return to the lineup after Ringer missed the final 11 games in 2015-16 due to suspension. With a new rotation of Ringer, Jelks, Fishler, Kilby and Nganga, the Bears have a slight rebounding margin (1.8) over its opponents in the first six games.
Head coach Bob Hoffman said that combination of height and depth will be an advantage for the Bears come conference play.
“I think it’ll give us something nobody has,” he said. “I think our depth there will be a great advantage once we do get into conference play because [you can put] pressure on with those three guys the way the game is being called right now. If we can use fifteen fouls down there, that’s also a great benefit. Foul trouble won’t be as big of an issue.”
And if foul trouble won’t be as big of an issue, Hoffman said that bodes well for the team’s performance — specifically rebounding. In its first six games, the team has won the rebounding battle three times. Kilby missed three outings.
“The main thing that we hope when we play will happen is that it will help us in the rebounding edge,” Hoffman said. “That could give you extra offensive possessions, and I think as good as we’re going to shoot it, it will help us.”
Jelks said the height of Fishler and Nganga helps because teams tend to gameplan or focus more attention on them.
“We take advantage of it because other teams look at that and tries to focus on them more, like [Nganga] and [Fishler], they’re tall and strong and get really good rebounds,” he said. “It’s an advantage of ours in the SoCon. You don’t really see that much height other than [Chattanooga] or ETSU.”
Chattanooga is the only other team in the conference with two players who are 6-foot-10 or taller; ETSU boasts the second-tallest player in the conference behind Fishler: Peter Jurkin at 7-foot.
Hoffman, with more depth and height down low this season, said he believes the rotation will depend on foul trouble.
“A lot will depend on who we are playing, and sometimes we may not play any fives,” Hoffman said. “[Ringer] can guard the four better than the other two. There might be situations where we would play Ryan [Johnson] and Cory [Kilby] or [Jelks]. Or we might go small.”
Jelks, who was named to the preseason all-conference team, said the added depth “definitely motivates” him. But while it may push him, Jelks said he’s not worried about his individual statistics.
“Against Florida, I had five points and one rebound… I’m not the kind of player that thinks about getting mine,” Jelks said. “People are going to have their nights where I’m doing good and when I’m not doing good, but I’m more focused on whoever’s on the court getting the job done. That’s really what’s more important.”