Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Stetson’s Louisiana Connection

By Dan Forcella

When Stetson men’s basketball head coach Corey Williams was hired to lead the Hatters this past June, the first thing he did was assemble his coaching staff. And one of the first things the new staff was charged with, including longtime collegiate coach Nikita Johnson, was to identify players who would help bolster the Hatters’ roster for the rapidly approaching season.

Johnson immediately set his sights on two players that would be a perfect fit.

“Raymone and Kentwan were the first two guys that I thought about bringing in,” he said.

Raymone Andrews and Kentwan Smith were teammates at Louisiana-Lafayette during the 2011-12 season. The pair helped lead the Ragin’ Cajuns to their highest win total in nine years.  Among the Lafayette coaches tutoring Andrews and Smith during the season was - you guessed it - Nikita Johnson.

Having coached at LSU (2004-07) and Louisiana Tech (2007-10) before joining the Ragin’ Cajuns staff, Johnson said he was well aware of Andrews’ talents on the court before the two joined up in Lafayette. The point guard’s high school skills were well-known across the state, but it was what Johnson learned about Andrews during his time coaching him that made him one of the first things on his mind after getting to Stetson.

“I knew Raymone was a tremendous young man who always took care of his academics,” Johnson said. “He was a great leader, very focused, and an extremely hard worker. He was exactly the type of student-athlete we wanted in our program here at Stetson.”

Johnson shared a similar sentiment about Smith. “Kentwan is really a great young man. He’s extremely focused, he’s concerned about his academics, he wants to be a good player, and he is a talented basketball player.”

Johnson had been around Smith since he played high school basketball in the Bahamas. He recruited him out of high school in Mississippi, and was an assistant coach at Louisiana-Lafayette for Smith’s one season with the Ragin’ Cajuns.

“It definitely helped that we were all familiar with each other,” Johnson said of being able to get Andrews and Smith to join Stetson as upperclassmen. “Knowing each other, and the trust that they had in me, made us realize that this was a great opportunity.”

The comfortable nature of knowing one of their assistant coaches well certainly helped, but it was the friendship between Andrews and Smith that ultimately led to their decision to come to Stetson.

“When Coach Johnson reached out to me, we talked about both Kentwan and I coming here,” Andrews said. “It helped me out knowing someone else that was going to be here.”

“We kind of made the decision together to come here,” Smith added.

“I hosted Kentwan on his recruiting visit to Lafayette, so we had a good bond from the beginning,” Andrews remembered. “That continued to grow once he came to school, and once we started practicing and playing together.”

After spending one season on the same team, all three went their separate ways. Smith transferred to Otero Junior College in Colorado, Andrews spent a year at Southeastern La. and earned his bachelor’s degree, and Johnson took a season off from coaching.

Since coming back together as integral parts of the Stetson men’s basketball program in Williams’ first season at the helm, the bond between them has grown even more.

“We’ve become even closer since we’ve gotten here,” Smith said of his relationships with Andrews and Johnson at Stetson.

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