CHARLESTON, S.C. – Armel Potter wears number one, and the freshman has been option number one for Charleston Southern this season. The Bucs' smooth, soft-spoken point guard reflected a bit on his rookie campaign following a career-high 27-point outing in Thursday's win over Presbyterian.
NOTE: CSU (9-16, 5-9 Big South) meets High Point (15-9, 8-5 Big South) on Saturday at the Millis Center in High Point, N.C. The game will be broadcast on ESPN3, with tipoff set for 7 p.m. CSU led High Point, the Big South's preseason favorite, for much of the first matchup on Jan. 2 before falling, 78-73. The meeting is the first of two straight CSU contests on the ESPN family of networks. The Bucs visit Gardner-Webb on Thursday on ESPNU in front of a national television audience.
While Potter has provided Barclay Radebaugh's club steadily excellent play throughout the year, he has found his voice more over the last several weeks. Potter's ability to pair vocal leadership with a well-rounded game gives him a chance to become the latest in a line of stellar guards at CSU.
"I think it's all a blessing and I'm learning something new every day," Potter said. "I have to talk way more for our team. It's kind of something new. In high school, I talked but wasn't as vocal as I am now. Now I'm learning to be more of a leader as a freshman."
Potter has been one of the leading freshmen in the Big South since day one. He paces all first-year players in assists and assist-to-turnover ratio, and ranks third in scoring. There's no mystery as to whose hands the ball will be in when the Bucs find themselves in need of a basket or play.
"That gives me a lot of confidence, honestly," Potter said. "My teammates look for me right away when it comes down to the last shot, no matter whether I've had a bad game or a good game."
Potter's had his share of good games of late, running off performances of 17, 18, 21 and 27 points in CSU's last four games. Just four days after setting new benchmarks with 21 markers and seven rebounds in a double overtime loss to Longwood, Potter went past it with 27 and eight to pace the Bucs past the Blue Hose. Potter has scored 18 or more points ten times this season, showcasing the form that made him Sprayberry High School's all-time leading scorer.
Radebaugh was enthused about Potter's potential in the summer and fall, and the enthusiasm has flourished further through the winter.
"We've put a lot of weight on his shoulders and he's maturing," Radebaugh said. "He's gonna be a great one here. He just handles himself better and better every game. Coach (BJ) McKie's doing a great job with him as we watch film and he's getting better. He's the key to our late game, just like Saah (Nimley) was. We're putting the ball in his hands and he's producing."
Radebaugh has also noticed Potter's increased tendency to rally a young CSU team looking to hit its stride as the Big South Tournament nears.
"Like Saah, he's learning to lead and use his voice," Radebaugh said. "The last two weeks, he's using his voice a lot more. The greatest weapon of a point guard is his voice. We've been real pleased with that. Armel is certainly leading the way and we're expecting a lot more of him in the future…There's only one Saah Nimley, and in four years I want people to say there's only one Armel Potter. He has his own strengths and he's got the desire to be a great player."
Below are some of Potter's other thoughts 25 games into his collegiate career.
Q&A with CSU freshman guard, Armel Potter
Q: Coach Radebaugh said you've been more vocal lately? What has that done for you?
A: It's been a good experience for me. I think it's all a blessing. I'm learning something new every day, and now I have to talk way more for our team. It's helping now, too. On the defensive and offensive end and during timeouts, practice, I just talk.
Q: Is that something that comes naturally for you?
A: It's kind of something new. In high school, I talked but I wasn't as vocal as I am now. Now I'm learning to be more of a leader as a freshman.
Q: Where have you seen your game grow the most this year?
A: Just being patient. Picking the right spots to shoot. I'm still working on finding my teammates better, getting them the right passes. Definitely the timing is something I'm working on right now. Picking and choosing spots and letting the game come to me instead of forcing it.
Q: Javis Howard has now scored in double figures in six straight games. How do you think he's developed, and how do you try to develop that relationship as a 1-2 combo that can lead the team the next two years?
A: He's grown tremendously. Me and him, we talk every day because I'm trying to grow that relationship. I'm trying to grow our relationship on and off the court because that pick and roll is something to see. It's something serious and it can work every time. They switch, then give the ball to him. If they go under, I'll just shoot. We're growing every day. Javis is becoming a really good big man. He's gonna be dominant next year, and can be really good the rest of this year.
Q: You seem to be close with Antwan Maxwell, a fellow freshman who is redshirting this year. How have you tried to help him improve and handle not playing in games this year?
A: It was tough on him at first because honestly, he could have played this year because he's really talented. I told him 'hey man, take advantage of it.' He's working out every morning in the gym, in the weight room and at practice, he's really good. He's improving every day.
Q: What's been the biggest challenge of going through some of the ups and downs of the year?
A: This whole experience is just a blessing. I'm learning how to stay poised and positive through this whole season. After some of those losses we took earlier in the season, I was real frustrated but Coach talked to me a few times and told me to keep my head up, stay positive and keep working. It's starting to pay off.
Q: What's it like being coached by BJ McKie? Are you aware of the type of player he was?
A: Oh yeah (chuckling), I know a lot about him. I know a lot about him, man. He's a great mentor for me. He tells me to stay aggressive. He gets on me in the game, and I think I need that to get better. He continues to push me every game and it's helping me a lot.