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Drexel banking on its deep backcourt

The Dragons' guard rotation is five deep and they may use as many as four guards on the floor at once.

Drexel University’s five guards for the 2017-18 season, From left, Miles Overton, Sammy Mojica, Troy Harper Jr, Tramaine Isabell, and Kurk Lee Jr.
Drexel University’s five guards for the 2017-18 season, From left, Miles Overton, Sammy Mojica, Troy Harper Jr, Tramaine Isabell, and Kurk Lee Jr.Read moreMichael Bryant / Staff Photographer

Zach Spiker laughed at the notion.

The second-year Drexel  coach was asked about having a surplus of guards and possibly not having enough minutes for the Dragons' obvious strength.

"I don't know if you ever have enough depth," said Spiker, who guided the Dragons to a 9-23 record, which was an improvement of three wins over the previous season. "You never know, things unfold that you don't have control of."

Spiker was speaking just after one of those things happened to Drexel. This was around mid-October, and Spiker had just learned that guard Kari Jonsson wouldn't be returning to the team. The 6-foot-3 Jonsson, who averaged 10.1 points and led the Colonial Athletic Association in three-point shooting (.436), decided to return to his native Iceland.

That meant a position that was six deep is now down to five. Still, it's quite a handful for Spiker, and it has led to highly competitive and friendly competition.

Leading the way is 5-foot-9 sophomore Kurk Lee. He is the Dragons' leading returning scorer after averaging 14.9 points per game and a team-high 5.0 assists. Lee also led the Dragons in minutes, averaging 32.9 per game, and with this year's added depth he may get more of a breather.

"The good thing this year is I won't have to play so many minutes," Lee said. "We can split the minutes and I think it will be difficult to guard us in the CAA."

The prognosticators think otherwise. Drexel was picked to finish ninth out of the 10 teams in the CAA preseason poll, in a vote of league coaches, media relations directors, and media members.

"It is definitely motivation and makes you a little upset, but it gives you something to work for," said senior guard Miles Overton. "It is OK to be underdogs sometimes."

Lee, Overton, and senior guard Sammy Mojica are Drexel's top three returning scorers. Mojica averaged 11.2 points and Overton 9.5.

Adding to the backcourt depth are two transfers who sat out last season and are now eligible to play. They are 6-1 junior Tramaine Isabell, who comes from the University of Missouri, and 6-1 junior Troy Harper, from Campbell University via Philadelphia's Neumann-Goretti High.

Isabell averaged 6.2 points for Missouri in 2015-2016. Harper averaged 13.5 points in his second and final season at Campbell.

"Troy can get to the line whenever he wants, I promise you," Mojica said.

During the preseason the five guards had a spirited battle for minutes.

"It's been very competitive and we always go at it every day in practice," Mojica said. "Guys have to be separated sometimes, that is how competitive it gets. And that is what teammates do, battle each other."

The competitiveness among the backcourt players has helped raise each player's game.

"Guys are trying to prove to Coach they should be playing more," Overton said. "It's very competitive but respectful, with everybody realizing we are on the same team."

Of all the guards, the 6-foot-4, 215-pound Overton is the most physical. If Drexel goes to a small lineup, he could see time in the frontcourt.

A graduate of St. Joseph's Prep, Overton spent his first two seasons at Wake Forest before transferring.

"Having a year under my belt in Coach's system should really help," Overton said.

While this should be a guard-oriented team, Drexel's biggest task is replacing forward Rodney Williams, who led the Dragons in scoring (15.6 ppg.) and rebounding (6.8 rpg.). He is now playing in Israel.

"It's going to be hard to replace him," said 6-8 senior forward Austin Williams, no relation.

This year Williams is expected to be the leader in the frontcourt after starting 27 games and averaging 7.1 points and 6.3 rebounds.

Still, this will be a guard-driven team, and the youngest, in terms of service, will carry a considerable load.

"Kurk Lee is a very seasoned sophomore guard with more experience than a traditional sophomore and we hope to capitalize on that with his leadership and ability to be more vocal," Spiker said.

Drexel could show several different looks, with two, three, and maybe even four guards on the court at once.

Despite its record last season, Drexel showed fight to the end, which encouraged Spiker. Of their last eight games, of which the Dragons won just one, they were highly competitive in most. Five of those final seven losses were by six points or fewer.

The Dragons would run out of gas because of questionable depth.

Now depth, at least in the backcourt, shouldn't be a problem.

"It is an exciting time, with the season upon us, and most of our guys are tired of playing against each other," Spiker said.

What Drexel hopes is that CAA opponents will get tired of playing against the Dragons, especially their deep backcourt.