The Belmont men's basketball team defeated Lipscomb 72-71 on December 6, 2023, at Belmont University in Nashville, Tennessee. Photo: Sam Simpkins/Belmont Athletics

Belmont's season was coming to an end and coach Casey Alexander quickly realized he had a big problem. The temptation of the transfer portal proved too great for his team's key players.

Within days, his top three scorers – Ja'Kobi Gillespie, Malik Dia and Cade Tyson – informed him that they were entering the portal. All three heeded their request and left Alexander, leaving a hole in his roster and a nearly impossible rebuild.

“We lost in St. Louis on Friday, we had player meetings on Monday and Tuesday,” Alexander said. “Ja'Kobi and Malik told me on Monday that they were leaving. Cade took about two weeks.”

“I was disappointed. I would have bet we would have kept all three before we lost all three. I wasn't angry, I think we're past that part. We understand the world we live in and we do our best to give them a great experience. I'm very confident we've done that.”

That's really all we can control.''

Alexander and his team then set about rebuilding the squad, and despite the fact that two players were out through injury and three newcomers were under contract, he knew he had to bring in reinforcements in the transfer window.

Belmont has signed 6-foot-1 forward Jonathan Pierre from Memphis, 6-foot-1 Aiden Noyes from Richmond, 6-foot-2 guard Brody Peebles from Liberty and 6-foot-3 guard Carter Whitt from Furman.

“We courted Noyes and Peebles intensively when they were still in high school,” Alexander said. “We played Carter Whitt twice when he was at Furman.”

“Jonathan Pierre, they kind of reached out to us. JP was 67-1 in his two seasons at Nova Southeastern, loved being part of a team that had a culture and knew who they were. Went to Memphis, loved the level but didn't get anything else. So when he went into the portal, he was more interested in being at that level and finding the type of culture that he can thrive in.

“All four of these guys are mature. That's the good thing about the portal, you know what you're getting.”

The Bruins have been practicing for about a month, and Alexander is pleased with what he's seeing. He sounds confident that Belmont can continue its winning streak (20 wins in 13 consecutive seasons).

“We wanted guys that know what it means to play here,” Alexander said. “We did really well in the portal. Tyler Scanlon fit well, hit a buzzer beater his first year here as a grad transfer to beat Murray State in the OVC final. Drew Freiberg fit well, had a great season, made our team better, a Princeton grad. Jace Willingham last year from Lee, Keishawn Davidson two years ago from Tennessee Tech. We feel like we have four of four guys we got out of the portal. We knew what we were getting, they knew what they were getting. And I feel like we have four of four with those guys, all in one year.

“If all four start in the first game, it wouldn't be a surprise, but we still have a long way to go before that happens. We have Brigham Rogers and Isaiah Walker, who played a lot of minutes last year, and we have those four guys. I'm very happy with those six players.”

He also hopes two redshirt freshmen, 6-foot-9 Drew Scharnowski and Sam Orme, can contribute alongside freshman Jabez Jenkins.

“I'm very optimistic,” Alexander said. “When you go through this at the beginning, you say to yourself: We are Belmont and we can't afford to be bad. And I don't think we're going to be bad.”

“I don't know how this is going to come together, we're in a really good league, but am I worried about us winning 20 games? I'm not. I'm not saying we will, but I'm not worried.”

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