No Need to Look Back as It's All Forward from Here
- By David Gonzalez, Day 1, 2023
It’s that time of year again where the JBL calendar closes in on opening day. A time where organizations and fans alike have a single goal in mine…a JBL championship. Well, that is if you are a fan of the Thunder or Scorpions. For those who follow the Drones, a new JBL season leads to disappointment and despair. Let’s see what 2023 has in store…
Nothing to see here unless you are a fan of BAD, BAD basketball. A 22-game losing streak to end the season plus two additional 10+ game losing streaks low-lighted the season. SF Lucas Rush led the team in scoring averaging 18.8 PPG while Jahmal Diggs pulled in 7.8 RPG from the starting PF spot. As a team, Charlotte shot 41.7% from the floor good for second to last in the JBL while simultaneously allowing opposing teams to shot 47.9% from the floor which was good for dead last. Needless to say, team ownership fired the GM which moves us to the present.
The theme in Charlotte this offseason was “Change”. It started with the announcement that David Gonzalez would be the new GM of the franchise moving forward. This led to a change at the Head Coach spot with Shawn Griffiths getting the boot and Scott Ford taking over the reins. Ford previously spent 3 years as an Asst. Coach in Miami following his storied 16-year career in the JBL which saw him named to 8 All-Star games and 1 All-JBL 1st Team. The draft showcased GM Gonzalez’ ability to wheel and deal as the team traded down from the #1 spot to pick up a package of picks along with SG Jordan Carstensen. Free Agency saw the staff focus on areas where the Drones were porous in previous seasons: meeting the floor of the salary cap, defense and plain old athletic ability and size. Unfortunately, our offer to our #1 target in FA, C Ante Bogdanovic, was matched by the Colonels. Other veteran players in FA received very aggressive offers; unfortunately for Gonzalez and Price the past failures of the franchise were too much of a factor to overcome.
2023 Training Camp Preview by Position
Starter: Isaiah Leonard (6’6, 188 lbs) #12 overall pick in 2022 (Arkansas)
- Leonard spent his rookie season learning from veteran PG Joe Layton and only made 5 starts all year. The Drones staff plan to see what they have in Leonard who will be relied on being a primary playmaker while the hope is that he can hold is own on the perimeter on the defensive side of the ball.
Backup: Tyrone Macklin (6’0, 198 lbs) #28 overall pick in 2018 (Georgetown)
- Macklin was our #1 target to backup Leonard in FA as Layton and his swiss cheese defense were let go. Macklin will be entering his 6th year in the JBL and now on his 5th team, but he looks to have found an extended home in the short-term after signing a 3-year deal with a team option for 2026. In 5 years, Macklin has only appeared in 111 games; however, the Drones scouting staff was impressed at his defensive ability and athleticm during the off-season workouts.
Bench: Devin Sistare (5’10, 175 lbs) Rookie UFA in 2023 (Arizona State)
- Sistare was a 4-year starter at ASU where his career averages saw him score 10.4 PPG with a 4:1 Assist/Turnover ratio that improved every season. Rumor has it that “Pink” Batts was a target in the offseason for the Drones and Sistare was next on the Drones list of targets. He is looked at as a project with some upside and will likely be limited in minutes this year.
Starter: Jordan Carstensen (6’6, 200 lbs) #13 overall pick in 2009 (Georgetown)
- Carst enters his 15th JBL season and first with the Drones following the draft day trade with the Jaguars which also involved the #1 overall pick. Carst is known as a pure scorer around the league and has yet to show any signs of slowing down. Carst will likely be a go-to for the Drones this season on the offensive side of the ball.
Backup: Raefael Williams II (6’8, 195 lbs) #5 overall pick in 2023 (Duke)
- RWII spent 1-year at Duke where he led the #12 Blue Devils in scoring at 16.8 PPG while shooting 44.6% from the floor. Williams was regarded as one of the top wing prospects in this year’s draft and the Drones were ecstatic to see him drop to #5 after trading down. RWII was the only player to receive the highest possible grade during his pre-draft workout and the fan base is looking forward to seeing what the 19-year-old can provide off the bench.
Bench (*TC Battle*): Will Holiday (6’9, 196 lbs) Rookie UFA in 2021 (Memphis)
- Will was a late signing during the FA period as he agreed to a $2.5M contract for 2023. This move was mainly designed to help Charlotte clear the cap floor and Holiday will be fighting for a roster spot during Training Camp (TC). During his first two seasons in the JBL, Will saw limited action in New Orleans appearing in just 90 games during that time frame.
Bench (*TC Battle*): Justin Chauca (6’7, 200 lbs) #31 overall pick in 2023 (Marquette)
- Charlotte had to scramble with the #31 as PG Eli Custer was snatched up at #30 and unable to find a partner to trade with the staff took a gamble on Chauca. Justin was one-and-done at Marquette where he led the team in scoring at 16.0 PPG and was also second on the team in rebounds and assists. Chauca impressed the team with his raw athleticism and the hope is for him to develop into a reliable scorer off the bench in the future.
Starter: Lucas Rush (6’9, 224 lbs) #9 overall pick in 2014 (Texas)
- The 2014 Dunk Contest winner is without a doubt the best player on the roster today and will be a key cog in getting this team to respectability over the next couple of years. Rush has been with the franchise since 2021 when they re-entered the JBL and has led them in scoring each of the past two seasons along with his all-around ability to contribute on the glass and via distribution. Rush may also be one of the only players in the JBL to be involved in separate trades for both Dontay Sowder and Orpheus Swayda.
Backup: Devearl Stoudamire (6’8, 184 lbs) #35 overall pick in 2021 (Missouri)
- Stoudamire has spent the past two seasons behind Rush and will continue to do so in 2023. The staff is expecting Devearl to contribute a bit more this season with him becoming a FA at the end of the year and looking for his first significant payday in the JBL.
Starter: Trent Buchanan (6’10, 233 lbs) #24 overall pick in 2023 (Cincinnati)
- Heading into TC, Trent appears to have the inside track at the PF spot which was an area where the Drones were exposed last season. Trent will be asked to provide some cover in the low block as Khalen Anthony continues to develop his defensive skills down low. Buchanan spent three seasons in Cincinnati where he appeared in 99 games and started 55. Rumor has it that he was convinced to return back to school after his freshman season by his parents which cost him a chance at being a lottery pick as his numbers tailed off the next two years.
Backup: Jahmal Diggs (6’8, 238 lbs) #66 overall pick in 2021 (Indiana)
- Jahmal was the leading rebounder for the Drones last season hauling in 7.8 RPG across 66 starts and 80 appearances. That’s saying a lot for a guy who at 6’8 is the size as a lot of shooting guards in the JBL. Diggs will need to continue to prove that his hustle and positioning can provide results as the team loaded up on young front court players during FA.
Bench (*TC Battle*): Mark Sagester (6’10, 226 lbs) Rookie UFA in 2023 (Loyola, IL)
- Sagester was a 4-year player at Loyola where he appeared in 119 games starting all 30 his freshman year. The Drones coaching staff is unsure as to why Sagester didn’t feature much his final three years as he played solidly during that freshman campaign. The expectation is for Mark to show us what he can do during TC and to go from there.
Bench (*TC Battle*): Jonathan Duvivier (6’9, 212 lbs) Rookie UFA in 2023 (Illinois)
- Another one of the UFA’s the Drones signed this offseason to come in and compete for a role. Jonathan was a 3-year starter for the Illini before taking a sabbatical to travel to Africa on a mission trip in 2022. As with most of the front court players during the offseason, the staff was looking for some raw athleticism, size and defensive ability. Jonathan will need a good showing in TC to earn a spot on the roster.
Starter: Khalen Anthony (6’11, 251 lbs) #14 overall pick in 2021 (USC)
- The big story coming into training camp surrounding Khalen is the 10-game suspension handed down by league officials for what the team’s strength and conditioning coach has blamed on a tainted Jamba Juice. Anthony is entering into his 3rd season in the JBL and has shown that he can be relied on to get buckets in the paint. However, his defensive capabilities have left the Drones staff questioning whether or not he can be a key cog for the squad moving forward. Add in the suspension and Anthony will have some work to do over the final 72 games of the season to make a positive impression with the new leadership in Charlotte.
Backup: Jason Sutton (7’2, 260 lbs) #14 overall pick in 2019 (Dayton)
- Sutton finds himself now thrust into the starting role on opening night although he was primarily brought into Charlotte to provide a big body down low which the team did not have. Sutton has appeared in 207 games (56 starts) in his 4 years in the JBL with a career average 4 PPG and 4.9 RPG in just 19 MPG.
Backup: Lafayette Okonkwo (6’8, 232 lbs) #36 overall pick in 2022 (Butler)
- As a rookie last season, Okonkwo appeared in all 82 games (8 starts) and averaged 6.1 PPG and 6.4 RPG. Okonkwo has shown he has the ability to play the four as well which will likely be where he sees most of his playing time once Anthony serves his suspension.
Bench (*TC Battle*): Brandon de Souza (6’7, 252 lbs) Rookie UFA in 2023 (Central Michigan)
- de Souza spent all of 2022 overseas as he was not picked up by a JBL team. This was coming off of 3 straight years where Brandon started 30/30 games for CMU and averaged 10.7 PPG, 8.2 RPG and 1.74 BPG. de Souza impressed the staff during offseason workouts and from the tape we saw during his time in Europe. The suspension of Anthony may help provide a case for de Souza to stay on the roster; however, he is competing with Sagester and Duvivier as well as we see him more as a PF should he make the roster.
What should the JBL expect from the Drones this season? Only time will tell but the aim is to be a competitive team who won’t be steamrolled every night and will look to contend in most matchups. The franchise record is 21 wins and a .395 winning percentage, so we are aiming to beat both of those marks as well. In addition, we are looking to have zero 10-game plus losing streaks which the fans have suffered through on 4 occasions since re-joining the JBL.