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Dragons will rely on Troy Harper and Kurk Lee to lead march toward improvement | Drexel season preview

The Dragons improved by four wins last season and a similar improvement is a realistic goal for the team picked to finish ninth in the 10-team CAA.

Troy Harper, a Neumann-Goretti product, will look to up his scoring output to make up for the departure of Tremaine Isabell.
Troy Harper, a Neumann-Goretti product, will look to up his scoring output to make up for the departure of Tremaine Isabell.Read moreELIZABETH ROBERTSON / Staff Photographer

Drexel progressed in its  second season under coach Zach Spiker — not just in win totals but in the Dragons' level of competitiveness.

The Dragons went 13-20, a four-game improvement from the previous season. They won a game in the Colonial Athletic Association tournament before losing, 66-59, to Charleston in the second round.

Drexel played 15 games that were decided by five points or fewer and were 8-7 in those contests.

The most impressive nail-biter was Drexel's home win over Delaware. The Dragons set a Division I record by overcoming a 34-point deficit to win, 85-83. The record, which broke a mark Duke set in 1950, gave the Dragons some national attention.

"That game needs to be the foundation to success of our team moving forward," Spiker said. "Our guys have to draw on that in life: When things are not going your way, never give up."

In the offseason Spiker was signed to a contract extension. Now the big question: Can he help Drexel make the next step?

"I think so," Spiker said. "The key is to continue to improve defensively."

Last year, Drexel was eighth in the 10-team CAA in scoring defense, allowing 78.5 points per game.

Drexel will also have to replace guard Tramaine Isabell, who is spending this season at St. Louis as a graduate transfer. Isabell, who had transferred from Missouri, was the CAA's second-leading scorer (21 points per game) in his only season with the Dragons.

The Dragons have some newcomers who should be a key part of the rotation, but improving the win total will rest largely on whether returning players can take their game to  another level.

Leading the way is junior guard Kurk Lee, who averaged 14.9 points as a freshman and 12.4 last year. A big reason for the scoring drop was the presence of Isabell, but Lee also saw his assists drop from 5 to 3.2 per game.

The fact that the 5-foot-9 guard was fourth in the CAA in minutes played last season shows his value to Drexel.

While Lee is expected to primarily play point, he could move over to the two-guard position as well.

Alihan Demir, a 6-9 junior from Turkey, is expected to be more of a scorer this season. He averaged 10.7 points and 5.4 rebounds after transferring from Central Wyoming College.

Another player looking to make a leap is Troy Harper, a local standout at Neumann-Goretti who attended Campbell University for two years before transferring to Drexel. He averaged 10.1 points while missing eight games last season.

"I feel it is my role to step up as a senior and try to help us win games, being a leader and just making the right plays," Harper said.

Drexel bonded during an offseason trip to Australia. It was needed with so many new faces.

Among the freshmen, 6-2 Camren Wynter is capable of playing either guard position and could take some of the ballhandling pressure off Lee. Fellow freshman Coletrane Washington is already among the top outside shooters on a team that needs to improve from the perimeter — Drexel was last in three-point percentage in the CAA (32.5 percent).

James Butler, a 6-8 sophomore who sat out last season after transferring from Navy, figures to bolster the frontcourt.

Another key for Drexel is how quickly the new players can jell, but it appears to be a program moving in the right direction, even though the Dragons were picked to finish ninth in the CAA preseason poll.

Drexel will open the season Nov. 9 on the road at Eastern Michigan. The home opener will be Nov. 14, when Montgomery County's Bryn Athyn, a Division III program, goes  to the Daskalakis Athletic Center.

Previewing the Drexel Dragons

Last year: 13-20, 6-12 Colonial Athletic Conference (lost in the second round of the CAA tournament to Charleston).

Coach: Zach Spiker (third season, 22-43; overall, 124-155).

Key returnees: Kurk Lee, 5-9, Jr. (12.4 ppg); Alihan Demir, 6-9, Jr. (10.7 ppg, 5.4 rpg); Troy Harper, 6-1, Sr. (10.1 ppg).

Who's gone: G Tramaine Isabell (21.0 ppg); F Austin Williams (9.4 ppg, 8.5 rpg); G Sammy Mojica (11.1 ppg).

Who's new: Zach Walton, 6-6, Jr.; Julian Adams, 6-1, Jr.; Trevor John, 6-3, graduate transfer from Cal Poly; James Butler, 6-8 ,So., transfer from Navy; Coletrane Washington, 6-4, Fr.; Camren Wynter, 6-2, Fr.; Jesse Reid III, 6-2, Fr.; Tim Perry, 6-10, Fr.; Matey Juric, 5-11, Fr.

What to look for in 2018-19: The Dragons should continue their improvement. Replacing Isabell's offense will be difficult, but this should be a more balanced team. Newcomer Washington should boost the Dragons' perimeter game. Drexel improved by four games last season and more of the same could be expected this year.

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