AFTER GAME THOUGHTS

YOUR 2020 CIAA MEN'S BASKETBALL TOURNAMENT CHAMPIONS


OK, well I haven't had a chance to post anything since the last regular-season game due to all-out focusing on the CIAA tournament. It's pretty difficult to put into words but I will try. 

Let me start by saying all of the programs that we faced had well respected top-notch coaches. All three coaches have had conference tournament championship success and have participated multiple times in the NCAA tournament. That being said, I AM SO PROUD OF OUR GUYS! I thought they played like champions throughout the tournament. 

The 2020 CIAA Tournament came down to a couple of different factors:

1) Preparation 
2) Game Management 
3) Support 
4) Destiny 

 

When it came to the preparation, I felt like the players were prepared off the court and on the court. As a staff, we had their daily routine tight! Breakfast, lunch, dinner, shoot around, walkthroughs, treatment, scouting reports, and study hall. Yes, STUDY HALL. The guys bought those segments. Especially the scouting reports.

Coach Beckwith and Coach Wilson are terrific at scouting opponents. They watch hours upon hours of film and present it to the team in a great fashion. As a staff, we are accustomed to meetings before games and after games. During those meetings, we discuss our current opponent and our next opponent. We are sure to itemize any and every possible situation and dribble. Our preparation is paramount. 

I believe we managed the games very well. I'm not a huge "timeout" person, especially in tournament play. I try to maximize the media timeouts to the fullest. It gives my staff and myself more data to gather and information to process. Therefore, our times in between play are also maximized.

Defensively, we were able to stay in the right calls, more than not. We didn't change our substitutions patterns from the regular season. So all of our players were comfortable with their rolls during the game. We did have some moments of stale offense, but our defensive efforts covered for us. 

When it comes to supporting a program, no other school comes close. The support starts from the top on down. We have the best chancellor in ALL of higher education, in Chancellor Robinson. He sends the message to make sure the team gets what they need for battle. Our new director of athletics, A.D. Thomas was spot on with carrying out that message and checking in multiple times a day to see if we needed anything. Some huge decisions had to be made during the week, and she did not flinch on any of them. Our A.T. trainer, Ryan worked around the clock to make sure guys were getting what the needed for injuries, rehab, and hydration. She was even creative with the hotel not having a pool. Our managers were spot on as well. Literally, running down everything the coaches need. Dylon and Brandon are two young men that will be very successful after college. 

Then, we have the support of the RAMILY! The sea of red and the energy of the C.E. Gaines Center travels through thin air to touch down in Charlotte every single game. It looked like C.E. Gaines Center East! The RED was there every night for the Men's and Woman's games! Every game was brought with energy just like the coaches and players. 

I remember being down by 11 points with 4 minutes and 18 seconds remaining in the contest. When I looked in the players' eyes, all I heard was..."We right here Rams! We are here for you! We got yall!" I thought the Ramily was at the peak of their powers.

As we mounted the comeback, the roars got louder and LOUDER, until Colon's free throws...you could almost hear a pin drop! On cue, they knew we needed concentration from our "ALL CIAA" performer. 

Once the game ended and players stormed the court, We ALL SAW RED! Pictures were being snapped all over the place. We saw Rams hugging and crying. It was a beautiful site to see our players engaging with the RED. They supported us all year, home and away. But, for 3 days, they were an army for us. We appreciate and love every one of you.

Lastly, Destiny! I felt like we would win the tournament and win it dramatically. It was just our time. The class of the conference returned to its natural spot among institutions in athletics as well as academics. We were down for a time but now it is our time to reclaim dominance. I felt that in my heart before the tournament started. Along the way, my confidence was shaken but not broken. We have powerful angels that wear RED! I know them...they have a strong will and it was felt for 3 days. 

Thanks again...we will see you in Atlanta!! GoRams - Cleo Hill Jr

2/22 - Livingstone - Senior Night - W, 82-76 OT

So, how should one conclude a regular season like ours? How about an epic overtime thriller on Senior's Night, in front of the greatest fans on the planet. 

The tension was thick and started with the Lady Rams' victory. Not only did the tension carry over, but it also thickened. I thought our guys were abnormally tight for the game. I guess because it was senior day and although all of our games are packed, this game was JAMMED pack with no seat or stair available. Also, ALL CIAA guard Robert Colon was under the weather. 

Throughout the season, we averaged 15 to 16 three-point attempts. In the first half of this game, we shot 14 three-point attempts. That's not like us at all. We are the top-ranked defensive team in our league and # 8 in the country. Well, our defensive effort in the first half did not show it. After some choice words at halftime, we started the second half on a 12 -2 run. 

The Blue Bears fought back like I knew they would. We had some great defensive moments at the end of regulation and some huge shots down the stretch. 

In overtime, OUR 6th man was in full effect!!! The C.E. Gaines Center was electric, to say the least! The chant of defense and the roar of the crowd for good plays and great effort put us over the top!!!! I was so proud of the guys' fight and grit. 

In addition to being proud of them, I am equally proud of my staff! Wilson and Beckwith... that sounds like a law firm! They put countless hours in the film room. We are so prepared as a coaching staff that the games are almost a formality. I am so blessed to have them and to have the support of what seems like a nation! Top to bottom the love is felt from every angle. Our next challenge is the CIAA tournament. We hope to see as much RED as possible. Thanks again for the support and for creating the atmosphere that is known as THE C.E. Gaines Center!!! - Cleo Hill Jr

2/19 - Johnson C. Smith - L, 55-53

Everyone is looking forward to the big heavyweight title fight between Wilder and Fury. Well, our contest at johnson C. Smith felt like a heavyweight boxing bout, CIAA style.

Coach Joiner is one of the legendary coaches in our league. We knew it would be a battle. Both programs look forward to being lone champions of the division. 

I thought we started the game better than expected. So good, that we had a 10-point lead with 5:58 left in the half. Right on time, there was a timeout called. In the timeout, we discussed tempo, clock management, and how we wanted to play slow for the last 2-minutes. Somehow, my instructions were translated into, "Let's get into a track meet." The exact opposite of what I directed.

Our players tried to push the ball on rebounds. Our players tried to push the ball against a 2-2-1 three-quarter defense. Both attempts were contrary to what we needed to execute.  

During my timeout, my words were harsh. The message was for the players to trust me and trust the staff. As coaches, we have seen everything. We have been there and we know what to do to counter any attack. The players have not been in that situation. They need to trust the directions. 

The second half was nip and tuck. The atmosphere was that of a true heavyweight boxing match. The fans were fierce on both sides. Again, the support from the Ramily was felt and seen. I love our supporters! We have so much pride and school spirit. My coaches and players feel it. 

As a staff, we are trying to fast track experience, the only true teacher. We hope to see everyone that can fit into the Gaines Center on Saturday for Senior Day and our last quiz before the big test next week! #GoRams - Cleo Hill Jr

 

2/15 - Fayetteville St. - W, 53-52

Another gritty road win! Fayetteville State has one of the tougher environments in our league and on top of that, they are one of our top rivalries! To squeak out a win in that arena is a huge accomplishment for our staff and team. We play in offensive spurts, so I knew our slow start would not last. When we went to our bench, we received a much-needed spark from Harrell, Kithcart, and Caldwell. 

Our team continues to impress me on the defensive end. We followed the defensive game plan and limited FSU to 33% from the field and 22% beyond the three-point range. We will need to be more consistent on that end to clinch a division title and play well in the tournament. 

My assistant coach's passion for detail and our chemistry as a staff is something special. W don't always have to agree, but we all want what is best for the program. 

As for the Road Ramily, I love the way we TAKE OVER the opponent's facilities with RED! It is beautiful to see!! Their confidence stretches to our team before we even hit the floor. 

There will be a championship vibe all week as we head into the Brayboy Gymnasium, on Wednesday. If the RED can roll in, it would give a HUGE boost. I am proud of the team thus far but there is much work to be done. Thank you for the support for both the Men's and Woman's teams! - #GoRAms Cleo Hill Jr

2/10 - Shaw University - Pink Out - W, 76-52

It was great being back in the C.E. Gaines Center. There's no place like home and no better place to get a much-needed victory. In our league, Shaw University is third in offensive points per game (78.7). However, we are the top defensive team in our league, allowing just 65.7 points per game. Our defensive energy highlighted the theme and momentum of the contest.

My staff zeroed in on the Bears' strengths and weaknesses. The team executed the defensive gameplan to perfection. Especially at the start of the game and the start of the second half. I continue to see growth in our team. Along with our growth, we are now completely healthy for the first time all season. 

We have Fayetteville State as our next opponent. They have a very experienced coach with a team that has revenge on their mind. We will have to be ready, prepared, and remain healthy. 

Again, the Gaines Center crowd and the atmosphere was MUST SEE. Our atmosphere has gone from great to EPIC! We have one more regular-season game in C.E. Gaines Center. If you have not been, I want to see you, your family, and your friends. No pets allowed...yet.

Thank you for the support you have shown our men's and women's program all season. We are trying to get a rally bus for the Fayetteville State game. I will give updates on Social media. #GoRams - Cleo Hill Jr

2/8  St. Augustine's - L, 69-68

A one-point loss on the road should be deflating to a program. Especially when a program was on a roll like we were. We almost forgot what it felt like to lose a game. 

However, this loss is not deflating to me. In all of my years in coaching, this was the first time I felt uncomfortable with an officiating crew. Now, there were times I felt my team received a bad call. There were times when I felt the officiating crew had a bad game. But, I never felt uncomfortable like I felt in this contest. 

No matter the circumstances, as a team and program, we must control what is in our power to control. We did not do a great job of that against St. Augustine's. The coaching staff noticed how subpar we were during warmups. Our players approached the game with overconfidence. 

During the pregame speech, I told the team how overconfidence would lead to being down 15 points at the half. When halftime came around, we were down by 15-points on the nose. So I challenged them. I wanted to see how they would react to such a deficit. They answered my challenge. I learned our team IS as talented as we thought. I learned we have a lot of fight in us. I learned we can play together when needed. 

The SEA of RED loomed very large in the opponent's gym. They stayed faithful to the end and saw us come from 12-points down with 1-minute remaining. We tied the game with 20-seconds left. THE SUPPORT IS REAL. 

Winston-Salem State's Raleigh Alumni Chapter had meals ready for us after the game. Our guys feel so much love from the Ramily! We will need ALL in attendance tomorrow so this loss does not turn into a losing streak. We are back in The C.E. Gaines Center, looking to get back to our winning ways.  - Cleo Hill Jr

2/3 - Lincoln University - W, 80-67

We are improving day by day and game by game. That has been our goal in the year 2020. We were blessed to win on the road against a gritty Lincoln University team, on Monday. Our chemistry and confidence have continued to grow in the last few games. The maturity of our senior ROBERT COLON has been something to marvel. 

I've only coached a few seniors who played with such confidence and poise, as their college career came to an end. The game has slowed down for Robert, and he is seeing all of his options. Lincoln played a box-and-one defense on him and shredded it to pieces, scoring 28 points. 

Robert is not alone, several players continue to evolve. Mason Harrell has played lights out, on BOTH ends of the floor. As much as these players and several others continue to improve, there is one person that has got to do better. It's time for Cleo Hill Jr to lift his own game. 

I must give my players a better plan to hold leads beyond turnovers, limiting the opponent's offensive rebounds, and not taking quick shots. I will game plan with my coaches to figure this out. It is weighing heavily on my brain. And as all coaches know, the more you plan, the more the next game will be completely contrary.

 

We hope to see a SEA OF RED in Raleigh on Saturday vs St. Augustine. Both MBB and WBB will be in action. Thanks for ALL of the support. #GoRams - Cleo Hill Jr

2/1 - Livingstone - W, 71-68

Coach Stinson has served as Livingstone's Men's Basketball coach since 2004. Under his leadership, the college won back-to-back CIAA basketball championships in 2014 and 2015. Before our contest, he received recognition for winning his 500th game. A very well deserved honor.

Needless to say, their student-body and fans set the atmosphere and his team was ready. We heard from the grapevine that Livingstone's crowd has chanted, "We Want Winston!" while playing other programs. And yes, their crowd was tremendous. But, they were nothing like the C.E. Gaines Center's TOTAL EXPERIENCE. So, we were also ready.

It was like a heavyweight title fight. The action went back and forth. As I told our beat writer...the legendary John Dell, "We did bend, BUT we did NOT break!" That is a sign of a good team! Winning on the road at the college level is a tall order, and sometimes it won't look pretty. 

There are some things we have to clean up, but overall, we are pleased by the way things are progressing. I continue to be impressed with my staff's scouting and preparation. They come up with new and innovative ways to stimulate the mind of today's student-athletes.

 

Now, as for the support we received, on Saturday. I've coached for a quarter of a century, and I HAVE NEVER HAD THE SUPPORT OF A UNIVERSITY AS I HAVE AT WINSTON-SALEM STATE UNIVERSITY!!! It seemed like the RED was coming in by the hundreds. We are all blown away by the road support. No one has a school that travels better than our school. We feel so empowered by the WSSU students, alumni, faculty, staff, and Women's Basketball program. At times, I feel like King Leonidas from the movie "300". The only difference is winning at the end.

We travel to Pennsylvania, on Sunday. We will be back in the Gaines Center, on Saturday. - Coach Cleo Hill Jr.

1/30 - Johnson C. Smith - Jersey Night - W, 83-63

Another great game in the C.E. Gaines Center, last night. Coach Joyner is one of the legends in our league. It is always an honor to coach against him and to compete. 

We are watching many different maturation processes at once. As a team, we are gelling and growing. It's quite a sight to see a team evolve in front of our eyes. The teachings from last year, throughout the fall, the preseason, our non-conference play, and now our division play is paying off. 

Then there is the maturation process of Robert Colon, our senior leader. He has been ALL EVERYTHING for three years. However, each attribute level is climbing, during his senior season. His vocal leadership and his ability to lead by example are beginning to shine brighter. He is understanding what I need from the team in certain moments and what I need from him in certain moments. I'm very proud of the strides he is making. 

Lastly, we are seeing the maturation process of the C.E. Gaines Center. It is reaching phenomenon status. The atmosphere has stretch throughout the country and internationally. We received t-shirt requests from California and as far as Australia.

 

The student body, faculty, staff, and community should take a bow! The Band, our cheerleaders, and DJ are key players in the home-court advantage we are so fortunate to have. You help create the energy and the mystique that is the C.E. Gaines Center. The students show so much pride, joy, and fun during the games. It is truly a MUST SEE event! 

My experience being a RAM to the core has been a blessed one. My team, staff and I will do our very best to continue our quest for the championship. The road to a division title will prove to be a challenging one. But, we will do our very best to bring that title home. Thank you ALL for your support!! #GORams - Cleo Hill Jr

1/27 - Shaw University - W, 78-61

I received a few text messages, after our games at Shaw University. Most of them read, "I know that victory felt good." While other text messages read, "It was great to see you back on campus. We all miss you." 

I coached for Shaw University for seven seasons. It was only my second time as an opponent in that gym. Honestly, it was not about revenge.  It just felt so good seeing some old, friendly faces again. It made me happy and blessed.

I also felt blessed with the scouting report my staff put together. Everything was done to the letter. There were no surprises. We were prepared for everything. 

With the scouting report, the players executed the game plan well. They took the "classroom" teaching and implemented it on the court. They did not crumble when I challenged them. Sometimes it's about the X's and the O's. Other times, it's about Jimmy's and Joe's. But, when you have both executing at a high rate, the blessing flows. 

But, that was not all. I have to speak on the love I felt with the red sweatshirts, hoodies, hats, and coats that said WSSU. I marveled at the sight of the opponent section begun to fill one "RAMILY" member at a time. It was just like a snowball gaining, speed, momentum, and size. 

My players, my staff, and your head coach are all truly blessed to be a Ram!!

Lady Rams also got a win! So, we brought home two hot dubbs. I want to thank them for their support. 

The atmosphere was just okay, in Spaulding. However, it will be NOTHING like the spectacle that will be in THE GAINES center, on Thursday!!! If you have to work...you better call in and you better start getting to the gym, Wednesday evening. It will be a squeezing room only!!!! See you there!! #GoRams - Coach Cleo Hill Jr. 

1/25 - Fayetteville St. - Camo Day - W, 61-54

In my young tenure at Winston-Salem State University, I would call this game a thriller and our biggest win. I was looking forward to matching wits with another coach with championship experience. Fayetteville State has the best record in our conference, and their coach always has his team prepared. 

The twenty-four hours before the game was interesting, to say the least. I marveled at two things specifically. One was our practice the day before the game. The other was the shoot-around on the day of the game. The team had a laser focus that I had not seen from them. They were extremely attentive and locked in. Coming from such a new group, it had a very veteran feel to it. 

During our preparation for the game, our assistant coaches were passionate and detail-oriented. The way they deliver the scouting reports is a thing of beauty. We were prepared for everything FSU would throw at us. 

Our players followed the scouting report to the letter. Even when our opponent shifted the momentum, we answered it with character and poise. 

Our team is beginning to gel. They understand what we demand from them as individuals and as a collective. But, the players and the coaches were not the only groups that impressed me. Our crowd was MUST SEE TV! 

If you have not had a chance to join the greatest home-court advantage on the planet, you have to attend a game in person. It is the most electrifying and the most intense atmosphere going. I thank all of the fans, friends, and Ram family who supported the Women's and the Men's team. - Coach Cleo Hill Jr. 

1/20 - Claflin - Black Out - W, 68-64

This is one of the most challenging seasons I've coached in a long time. Challenging due to so many new faces in the program and a season with so many championship coaches on our schedule. Just in the year 2020 alone, I've coached against five championship coaches. Coach Brooks at Bowie and Coach Blow at Virginia State hold multiple conference titles. Coach Butler at Virginia Union and Coach Walker at ECSU holds conference titles. While Coach Jackson at Claflin holds a SIAC conference title.    

However, with all of these great coaches, I feel very confident with my experience, my staff, my team, and the direction of the program. We are THE RAMS of WINSTON-SALEM STATE UNIVERSITY! 

My players are gaining more confidence with every game. My seniors (Julius Barnes, Dontae Caldwell, Mason Harrell, and Robert Colon) continue to lead the way. Robert Colon is also to be congratulated on scoring his 1500 point last-night. 

The way we finish a game is still a work in progress. We are improving in late-game situations, but we are not where I want us to be. Our newcomers also played well (Jonathan Hicklin, Justice Kithcart, and Jaylen Alston). Alston's energy is something to admire.

The energy in Gaines Center was the difference-maker. The defensive chants and our defensive adjustments changed the tone of the game. 

We will need the Gaines Center to be overcapacity, Saturday vs FSU. That game will be a war from start to finish. Thanks again for the support. #GoRAMS - Cleo Hill Jr.

1/16 - Elizabeth City St. - W, 64-61

College athletic staffs meet often. As for the Winston-Salem State's Men's' Basketball program, our coaching staff meets very often. The topics on the table can range from recruiting, academics, practice, scouting, evaluating, professional development, traveling itinerary, home-court advantage, compliance, behavior, and other topics. We don't always agree, but I often lean on their judgment which makes great chemistry. There is no room for egos when building a championship program. 

We made a few changes to how we want to close the last minutes of a half and the game. In the short term, the changes looked great last night. OUR ROAD LOSING STREAK HAS ENDED.

Statistically, we looked great in many categories. However, the game was not about numbers, it was about the "buy-in". I believe if we have 100% buy-in over the next six weeks, we will have a great chance to win the division and the conference tournament. 

The blueprint toward a championship program is not as easy as X, Y, and Z, especially in this "look at me" generation. It is going to take a process to build, and I love the process. At times, my kids say I look stressed on the sidelines. But no, it's just a small part of the journey and challenge. 

That challenge was presented when I accepted the job. The team was 5-22 the year before I took over the helm. Today, we sit on top of the Southern division. If you go to the CIAA website, I am sure you will agree that we look very good at the top. Keep in mind that it can change in the blink of an eye. Down the stretch, we have so many tough places to play. And with so many new faces on the roster, we don't know how they will respond. 

 

In closing, my staff and I love what we do and where we are. The effort will NOT be compromised.

We play Monday in Gaines, where we will need our sixth man! There is NO PLACE LIKE HOME! - Cleo Hill Jr

1/13 - Elizabeth City St - L, 69-68

The result of this game is difficult to swallow. We had a few players out for last night's game against ECSU, for various reasons. My job, like any other championship coach, is bi-fold. We have an obligation to win basketball games and win championships. In addition to championship coaches building a championship team, we are assigned to build a championship program. I am on the journey to build a championship program. But, that journey does not exclude constructing, shaping and molding the character of these young men. 

This game was about building character on and off the basketball court. In this defeat, I hope we will win the long game of life, well after the ball stops bouncing. 

During the game, we struggled with the awareness of time, score and pace continued. Early in the morning, I watched the game several times, particularly focusing on the end of the first half (last 4 min) and the last quarter of the game (last 8 min). We are teaching our team, particularly the guards, that the time clock, the game score, the pace of the game, and shot clock awareness are vital.

At 11:30 pm, the night of the game, my daughter (an inspiring 10-year-old ballplayer) had so many questions about what she observed. "So dad, during the game, why do you point at your head and wrist so often?" She stole my heart when she was born and now she has tapped it again...lol.

 

I am in LOVE with the process of building and molding young men and a program. We will fight again, on Thursday. Thanks for all of your support at the game and positive thoughts and comments on social media! GoRAMS!! - Cleo Hill Jr.

1/11 - Virginia Union - 90's Night - W, 63-61

There is NO PLACE LIKE HOME. This is a stacked conference and our schedule is filled with programs and coaches who have tasted championship success. In Virginia Union, we faced a championship coach and a storied program that is no stranger to being a titleholder.

    

This contest was about guts. What team wanted it more? When coaching young student-athletes, you can tell when they have that ESPN mindset, during the game. Perhaps the team goals are in the back of their minds, but the thoughts of "look at me and my stats" are front and center. But, not in this game. Our players wanted to do anything and everything to win the basketball game. Our reserves were lifting the spirits of our starters and the overall encouragement was contagious.  

The phrase "Trust the Process" is REAL. To have a successful college basketball program, each player must go through the process and embrace their role. Not everyone can play the role of the leading scorer or lead the team in rebounds. But, everyone can lead the team in enthusiasm, encouragement, behavior, and team defensive effort. 

My staff and I will figure out what it takes for THIS team to maximize their potential. A special thanks to everyone who attended the game last night. There was a sixth man factor late in the game. We have another tough test on Monday at 7:30 in The Gaines Center!! - Coach Cleo Hill Jr.

 

 

1/9 - Virginia St. - Greek Day - L, 85-80

We had a tough home loss last night, falling to Virginia State by five. I felt that we had a lack of focus during our practices leading up to the game. The effort was there, just not the focus needed to defeat good programs. I had to stop practice multiple times to discuss its importance. 

We knew the competition would be focused and ready. They are always focused and ready. But, lack of focus made its appearance, as predicted. Our lack of executing v-cuts, reversing the ball, defending the ball screens, and other fundamentals that did us in. In the last 10-minutes of the game, nothing was executed to the letter. 

We will focus more on endgame execution and how to finish an opponent in the closing minutes. I love the process and the journey. We need our players to also love the process and the journey. 

I want to give special acknowledgment to our student body, faculty/staff, band, cheerleaders, horns members, hoops club, alumni, band, DJ and community. You were all "electric" last night. My team and staff thank you! 

We have VA Union tomorrow! Hope to see YOU ALL in GAINES! - Cleo Hill Jr.

1/4 - Bowie St. - L, 75-72

Normally, I would be frustrated with an ongoing road losing streak. But instead, I was refreshed with our progress, even in defeat.  Our practices were full of conditioning drills and execution on both ends of the court. Our goal was to improve on specific things. 

We played strong against Bowie State, at the Gaines Center. At one point, leading by as much as 30. I was sure there would be coaching adjustments made by the opposition. They also had the home crowd energy to draw from. Coach Brooks had his team ready to play. But as a team, I thought we played better. 

Once in a while, you face an offensive player who is hotter than fish grease. For Bowie State, that was #22. We threw the kitchen sink at him. We defended him with different players and used multiple defenses. It did not matter.


We will continue to improve in multiple areas. I can't wait to be back home with the best atmosphere and crowd in the country. We have two tough opponents arriving on Thursday and Saturday. THE 2020 HOMESTAND BEGINS..........NOW! #GoRams - Cleo Hill Jr.

12/21 - St. Augustine’s - W, 66-59

It’s great to win the last game of 2019. We faced a gritty St. Augustine’s team that always plays well in our building. I’ve called this game "the trap game” all week.

As any team reaches Christmas vacation, a third of the players have mentally and emotionally checked out. This year was no different. My team had their minds on the new iPhone 33 nicely wrapped under their trees, during the entire first half of the contest. As a coach you want the game plan to be executed as coached for forty minutes. That was not accomplished against St. Augustine’s.

Family, friends, and fans aren’t privy to what goes on in the locker room, at halftime. But, once in a while, there are times coaches won’t touch a maker to a whiteboard. Instead, the marker stays in the coach’s pocket and it’s time to look the players in their eyes and explain how X’s and O’s has nothing to do with winning the game in front of them. It’s all about which group of men wants the victory more than the other group of men. Saturday was THAT halftime and game. I can appreciate how our players dug deep in the last 8 minutes of the game. The victory is attributed to their guts, pride, and heart.

My team, coaches, and players were pleasantly surprised by the turnout, on Saturday. The community was very supportive. I hate that they had to see such an unpolished game, but appreciative nonetheless. Thank you for your support during the 2019 season, we hope to see you in the Gaines Center in 2020! #GoRams – Coach Cleo Hill Jr.

 

 

12/14 - Virginia Union - L, 63-59

It has not been a great experience when leaving the confines of The Gaines Center, this season. But, "road woes" are to be expected when there are so many new faces on a team. Having eight new and talented players has its pluses and drawbacks. 

I've played and coached in this league for a combined 15 years. If anyone understands the importance, benefits, challenges, and differences of a road trip, it would be me. As a coaching staff, the obstacle is to prepare the new faces and get them comfortable with each new road experience.

 

Each trip has its complexities. Whether it is the dim lighting in a gym, a small locker room that's shared with the women's program, or a gym so small that the fans' knees are in your back while you're on the bench waiting to get called back into the game. All of those can be a factor, and that's before playing an opponent who is comfortable with every spot on their home court. My coaches and I will continue to prepare and inform our players.

 

Dropping two games in the state of Virginia does not leave a good taste in our mouths. But, we were not without support! Thank you to the "RAMILY" who represented in Petersburg and Richmond. That includes Coach Lamont and the Lady Rams.

 

We hope to see you all on Saturday, as we conclude 2019 in the Gaines center vs The St. Augustine Falcons. I have heard the entire Winston Salem Community is urged to come out with free admission!  - Coach Cleo Hill Jr.

12/12 - at Virginia St. - L, 84-78

We suffered a tough loss last night. But, in defeat, I did notice growth in our performance. We are implementing a four-guard offensive philosophy with a heavy focus on driving to the basket and passing to the open player. For the first time this season, our team produced longer stretches of dedication to the offensive identity. Our goal is to lengthen that focus throughout the game.

Our post players did well scoring and passing from the block. 

Although our defensive identity is man to man, we performed well when we mixed it up a bit. But once again, we must stay true to our scouting report. We need to focus on defending shooters like shooters and close the lanes against slashers. 

Our games conclude late in the evening. So, I was not able to meet the alumni chapter that traveled to support the program. Moving forward, I plan to welcome our alumni chapters during our Women's' contests. The LadyRams staff and players are always there to support us, and we will always be there to support them.

We look forward to seeing you in Richmond, this Saturday. Our Women's contest starts at 2 pm. Our Men's contest begins at 4 pm. - Coach Cleo Hill Jr. (#GoRams)

12/2 - Claflin - L, 60-53

 

We suffered a tough loss during our first regular-season road game. The Orangeburg, South Carolina crowd did a fine job welcoming our newcomers to the CIAA. It’s especially important to execute on both sides of the floor when entering the opponent's home court. Their fans and players were intense, leaving us little room for error.

One obvious concern was how we defended their shooters and slashers. We gave their shooters space and allowed their slashers to drive. That’s a formula for disaster. It was like our players mixed up the scouting report. But, even with that glaring issue, we held Claflin to under 65 points.

 

On the offensive end, we shot and missed too many three-pointers (4-20). We also did not protect the ball well. Our 14 turnovers lead to 16 fast-break points for Claflin, and that was the difference in the game.

We will do our homework, watch the film, make adjustments, and be ready for another road battle vs. ECSU.

In closing, congratulations to our women's program, who was victorious in their contest in South Carolina. - Cleo Hill Jr.

11/25 - Lincoln University - W, 84-70

After the Piedmont International game, I remember asking one of our injured players, "There's no way we can continue to shoot so poorly, right?" The player answered, "No way, I doubt it." 

In that game, we were 3-15 from beyond the three-point line, and our percentage from the field wasn't much better. Combining our first four games and our scrimmage against the Tar Heels, we were shooting under 40 percent from the field and under 20 percent from beyond the three-point arc. One would say the numbers told the story.

In our last two games, we are shooting close to 60 percent from the field and a blazing 53 percent from three-point land. I could also say it's all in the numbers... but it's all about the BUY-IN. 

I have a GREAT coaching staff. Together we created a culture of accountability. Going back to the numbers, 75 percent of our locker room has bought into what we are coaching. The goal is to reach 100 percent of the locker room. Sometimes I feel like that only happens in the movies. For example, The Fish That Saved Pittsburgh. A homework assignment for anyone under 40. Watch the movie... twice.

As we all take a much needed and deserved break, I hope our players, the coaching staff and our HEAD COACH can take a break from the basketball numbers. Enjoy family, food, and fellowship. This lifetime seems long..but it's not. Those family members you have not hugged in a while, do so. God will call on us to make a difference in someone's life when we least expect it. Be thankful for your family. Remember, F.A.M.I.L.Y is an acronym, standing for Forget About Me I Love You. 

Thank you for the support in Gaines! Hope to see you on the Road! Happy Thanksgiving! - Coach Cleo Hill Jr.

 

 

11/23 - Bowie St. - W, 88-65

I'm pleased with our victory over Bowie St. Our players endured the challenge and defeat the team selected to win the CIAA, this year.  We played with an edge and focus, ready to prove a point.

 

One of the most underrated responsibilities of being a head coach is molding young, unfinished men into solid husbands and fathers. 

Coaching goes well beyond the X's and O's or making sure they touch a line during team sprints. Our young men have childhood experiences. No student enters Winston-Salem State University as a perfect person or player. As a coaching staff, our goal is for our players to graduate as a man who is far superior to the individual who entered.  This is an ever-evolving task. Receiving wide-eyed recruits with egos, insecurities, and laser focus to be professional athletes, only reoccurs with a new recruiting class.

Coaches wear many hats. Some efforts lead to winning on the basketball court, while more lead to winning in life.

Tonight's contest was about team growth through accountability. Our players will need the accountability trait throughout the season, when they walk across the graduation stage, and beyond.  

Monday, we battle Lincoln. Please come out and support our young men. - Cleo Hill Jr.

11/19 - Piedmont International - W, 77-64

Former NBA player and Piedmont International's head coach Josh Howard had his team prepared for battle. It became an uphill climb for us, due to our slow start, something that should never happen in the Gaines Center. We will study the film and make the proper adjustments. 

As we piece together different rotations, I notice common positive and negative trends. Our players show flashes of executing just what we coach, but our lack of focus tends to last too long.

Jaylen Alston and Mason Harrell performed well throughout the contest. Their focus and energy were keys to victory.

 

Overall, we still need to clean up a few things. The top two areas of opportunity are defense fundamentals and attacking the 2-3 zone. There's a lot of work ahead of us, including getting healthy. 

Please come out and support both our Men's and Women's teams this Saturday vs Bowie State at 2 pm and 4 pm!!! - Cleo Hill Jr.

11/16 - Morehouse (CIAA/SIAC Challenge) - L, 66-64

Not winning a game can be deflating. But, when you lose on a buzzer-beater, it's very deflating. It's been a while since I lost on a last-second shot. 

I believe a game is never determined by the last play's execution. Instead, I believe the game's outcome emerges due to the fundamentals and execution throughout the contest. 

There are clearly defined rules when it comes to a team that relies on driving to the basket, kicking it out to the open man, shot selection, and free throw shooting. I will do a better job defining those rules with our team.  

We learned a lot about ourselves while playing in the Classic. It's great for our team to play another conference, early in the season. We learned our strengths and areas of opportunity which will prepare us for our conference play. 

Our student body community, alumni, band, cheerleaders, dance team, and DJ did not disappoint! We hope to see you on Tuesday, as we battle cross-town rivals, Josh Howard and Piedmont International! - Cleo Hill Jr.

11/15 - Fort Valley St. (CIAA/SIAC Challenge) - W, 74-55
 
As coaches, we relish the grind of film study, recruiting talent, scouting an opponent, and analyzing concepts. But, the more I coach, the more I realize the success of a team is more about reaching these young men on a personal level.

  

Coming together to build a "TEAM FIRST" mindset can be challenging, in this "ME FIRST" world. Following every contest, numbers can support our bright spots and our areas of opportunity, our victories, and defeats. But, numbers don't always tell the complete story. There are hidden variables in the formula of competition, and if you aren't paying close attention, you will miss it.

Friday, we started a freshman post player (Garner, NC) and played a 5'5 point guard (Raleigh, NC). Neither player scored a field goal in the contest. BUT, their energy, presence, and listening skills made all the difference in the outcome. I am excited to mold these young men to persevere on the court and beyond. EDUCATION THROUGH ATHLETICS is a purpose that we will instill in our players for the court, life, and the real world.  – Coach Cleo Hill Jr.

11/12 - UNC Pembroke - L, 75-64
 
We had some bright spots in the game and positives to build on, going forward. But, we need to execute with more consistency. First game jitters caused fundamental basketball errors on the offensive side of the ball and the defensive side of the ball. As a coaching staff, we look forward to cleaning up the errors on the court, play with more energy and passion, and our players’ desire to work hard on the defensive end of the floor.
 
This season will be filled with the classic match of size versus speed. Tonight, size won out. We missed key rebounds against our larger competition. All in all, I feel like we have some positive things to build on for a quick turnaround on Friday as we host Fort Valley State in the CIAA vs. SIAC Challenge. The tip-off is at 8 pm. Shaw and Morehouse College will play at 6 pm. We need the home crowd to come out and show everyone who has the best crowd in the country. – Coach Cleo Hill Jr.

 

11/1 - at North Carolina DI #6 - L, 96-61

The 2019 Homecoming week was the most anticipated event in some time. To reflect on all the festivities is impossible, but Friday, November 1st is a day I will never forget. A special THANK YOU goes out to Coach Roy Williams, the North Carolina Tar Heels, and their leadership. 

I am proud of our players' effort and preparation. However, simulating the excitement, the atmosphere, and the opponent's size was not an easy task. 

The players' focus throughout the week had its ebbs and flows, which can be expected with so many great Homecoming activities on campus. But, to our players' credit, our shootaround was filled with intensity, the day of the game. 

The start of the game was more than sluggish, due to jitters and not wanting to make a mistake. After scoring 6 points, we went 0 for 8 on the next eight possessions. I thought we settled down a bit and finished the half strong. 

At the start of the 2nd half, we looked like the team I envisioned, playing up-tempo, driving and kicking, and making great decisions. For the remainder of the contest, our execution was not as consistent as I would like it to be.

The scrimmage was a great experience for our young men to look back on later in our conference season and national play. More importantly, they can look back on the experience later in life and use it for teaching moments and reflections. Playing against a storied program like UNC is an accomplishment. They definitely have great pride in their tradition and it shows. Now, our guys can look at our tradition, our conference championships, tournament bids, and a National Championship. We will begin to take great pride in knowing OUR history, traditions, legendary players, coaches, and students. 

For me personally, I am disappointed after losing any contest but my development as a coach, motivator, and mentor of young men MUST go to another level. I can definitely thank UNC, coach William's and his staff for keeping my teams, my staff, and my individual fire lit!

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