DSC_0026(1).jpg

Redshirt Freshman Guard Terrence Edwards shoots for the basketball hoop while a Towson player tries to block him.

Senior guards Vado Morse and Kiki Jefferson are the men’s and women’s basketball leaders at JMU, respectively, and it’s no secret.

But there’s more to the basketball roster than just the stars.

The Breeze sports editors Grant Johnson and Madison Hricik share their picks on some of the biggest players to watch for both the men’s and women’s teams this season, including players who finished their season strong, some new faces with strong resumes and other returning from season-ending injuries.

Men’s hoops experience shines

For the first time in JMU head coach Mark Byington’s tenure, he has a familiar core to work with.

Men’s hoops enters its 2022-23 season with players who’ve been in Byington’s system for three years now, while only one consistent starter from the year prior, former graduate transfer guard Charles Falden, has left the team. Here are three players who’ll be key contributors this winter — both seasoned veterans and newcomers to the Friendly City.

Julien Wooden - redshirt junior forward

Multiple players told The Breeze that Wooden is a different player this season. He’s smarter on the court, graduate forward Alonzo Sule said he recalled Byington saying in a practice, which gives Sule confidence in the redshirt junior.

Last season, Wooden played primarily on the wing despite being listed as the tallest player on the roster at 6-foot-8. He put up 7.3 points per game on 42.4% shooting and started in 23 of the Dukes’ 28 games.

Redshirt junior guard Vado Morse said Wooden was “the laziest person on the team” in 2020-21. Now, for Wooden, playing under Byington for three years — and the development of his new teammates — is giving him hope for the season.

“We’re coming along real good,” Wooden said, “so I think we’re having a really good chemistry this year, and I look forward to winning.”

Terrence Edwards - redshirt sophomore guard/forward

Edwards ended 2021-22 on a high, despite JMU’s 36-point loss to Towson. He scored 27 points to cap off a season in which he averaged 9.1 points per game and 4.2 rebounds, playing a similar role on the wing as Wooden but taking on more ball-handling responsibilities in spurts last year.

Now, like Wooden, Edwards has been in Byington’s program for three years and has taken a noticeable step, especially as a leader, Morse said. There have been times where Morse said he’s been sluggish, and Edwards called him out for it.

Edwards said much of that urgency has come from the lost seasons resulting from the pandemic.

“You can’t take these days for granted,” Edwards said. “You never know when you’re gonna go down — like, it’s basketball, so injuries come with it. You just never know you’re gonna go down, so every day we learned to come in every day and take advantage of us just practicing.”

Noah Friedel - graduate transfer guard

One of JMU’s new players has seen his fair share of college basketball.

Friedel comes to JMU from the transfer portal via South Dakota State, where he played for three seasons, averaging 14.2 points on 39.6% from 3-point range in 17 games last season for a 30-win Jackrabbits team that made the NCAA Tournament.

Friedel might fit into this year’s roster similarly to Falden, who frequently spotted up from the corner from 3. Morse said he likes the comfortability of having someone in the backcourt who can take pressure off him from deep.

“Catch and shoot, Noah may have me — I don’t know,” Morse said. “Playing along [with] him, I think it’s gonna be great spacing the floor out because if I have the ball, you can’t leave Noah. He can shoot the basketball, so that’s just gonna free up more space for me.”

The womens' fresh start

On the women’s basketball roster, head coach Sean O’Regan spent the majority of the offseason working on two things: getting depth in his roster and finding a new identity for the team. Last season, O’Regan said he felt like the team didn’t have the chemistry and fearlessness he wanted, and he hopes this season will feel like a complete reset.

The women’s basketball head coach said he’s gotten some of that depth back, particularly with the return of junior forward Claire Neff and junior guard Peyton McDaniel, but is still waiting to see what the team’s identity will look like.

But that doesn’t mean he has any less faith in what his team can do.

“That’s my headliner, it’s a totally fresh start,” O’Regan said. “It’s refreshing, eyes are forward type of thing, and so we’re working hard.”

Peyton McDaniel - junior guard

McDaniel has long awaited her return to the court for JMU. The junior guard suffered an injury just before the start of the 2021- 22 season and never played. But before the injury, she'd been named the 2020-21 CAA Rookie of the Year and was the third-ever freshman to score 30 points in a game, doing so against George Mason in December 2020.

It’s been a long time coming for McDaniel to get her shot again, and she said it’s felt even longer than she would’ve imagined. O’Regan said McDaniel is someone who “lives and breathes” basketball, so her anticipation to play again makes it a bigger deal for the Dukes.

“It definitely feels like basketball season again for me,” McDaniel said. “We’re all just super excited for the season and it just feels refreshed.”

Caroline Germond - graduate guard

Graduate transfer guard Caroline Germond was one player O’Regan said hopes to give a little more leadership and maturity to the roster. Germond is coming back from an injury and is in her fifth year of eligibility, after playing two seasons at South Plains College and another two seasons at Texas Christian University.

“She’s on a mission,” O’Regan said. “And she’s coming here, and she’s fearless ... but that’s kind of who she is. She’s here to run the show.”

At TCU, Germond was averaging over 17 minutes and 2.6 points per game, and for South Plains College, she was averaging over 10 points per game. Her big selling point, however, is her off-ball mobility. She averaged over 100 steals at South Plains College, and it’s something O’Regan said he wants to take advantage of this season.

Steph Ouderkirk - junior forward

When the Dukes needed help from the three last season, junior forward Steph Ouderkirk delivered. Ouderkirk played in all 29 games last season and had her first career double- double against Hampton in November 2021.

O’Regan relied on the junior forward throughout the second half of the season as the team began dealing with injuries, and Ouderkirk showed off her skill set — especially the longshots.

After struggling to play a full 40 minutes last season, the women’s basketball team wants to rebound from its first losing season in nearly a decade. And with a new set of assistant coaches, some fresh faces and some rested ones, too, O’Regan said he believes the team can get there.

“I really believe we’re kind of through that,” O’Regan said. “As far as what we’ve looked back on [and] what we’ve reflected on, to me it’s eyes forward because that’s in the past.”

Contact Madison Hricik and Grant Johnson at breezesports@gmail.com. For more basketball coverage, follow the sports desk on Twitter @TheBreezeSports.