2022-23 was not quite up to par for the Abilene Christian men’s basketball team. At least in terms of the win/loss column. It was the first time in five seasons the Wildcats did not eclipse the 20-win mark, and the first time since the 2017-18 season the Wildcats had a losing record in conference play.
It wasn’t supposed to be that way. Damien Daniels was back. Tobias Cameron was back. Airion Simmons and Cam Steele were back. Manny Allen was back.
And yet, things did not go as planned especially after a first-round exit from the WAC Tournament.
The floor general in Damien Daniels is now gone. Tobias Cameron’s eligibility has run out. Joe Pleasant played his final year in a Wildcat uniform.
There three were legends. And rightfully so.
However, there is some new life in West Texas. Abilene Christian returns six of its top-9 scorers from 2022-23 led by dark horse WAC Player of the Year candidate Airion Simmons. Perhaps the biggest question facing head coach Brette Tanner and the Wildcats is who will be the floor general? Perhaps Hunter Jack Madden. Maybe newcomer Kavion McClain. It remains to be seen.
Let’s take a look at the Wildcats.
Brette Tanner, third season
38-28 overall, 18-18 WAC
13-17 overall, 7-11 WAC
- Damien Daniels – Eligibility
- Tobias Cameron – Eligibility
- Joe Pleasant – Eligibility
- Yuot Gai – Eligibility
- Yaniel Rivera – 6’4, Freshman, G
- Kavion McClain – 6’0, Junior, G – Howard College
- Nasir DeGruy – 6’4, Sophomore, G – LSU Eunice
- Ma’Shy Hill – 6’9, Freshman, F
- Aidan Igiehon – 6’10, Senior, F – GCU
- JV Seat – 6’3, Sophomore, G
- Leonard Bettiol – 6’8, Redshirt Sophomore, F
- Cam Steele – 6’8, Senior, F
- Muodubem Muoneke – 6’5, Sophomore, G
- Hunter Jack Madden – 6’2, Senior, G
- Airion Simmons – 6’5, Senior, F
- Ali Dibba – 6’4, Junior, G
- Manny Allen – 6’4, Senior G
Getting bigger on the guard line was an area of emphasis for Brette Tanner and his staff in the offseason. Bringing in a 6’4 JUCO transfer helps. But, the Wildcats also have a trio of big guards that will be relied upon heavily in 2023-24. Keep an eye on what Tanner does with Hunter Jack Madden. In a recent podcast episode, Tanner said he wanted to put Madden in positions to play on ball rather than off the ball. At 6’2 and with the ball handling skills of a true point guard, perhaps it will be Hunter Jack Madden who replaces Damien Daniels. Kavion McClain will also be in the mix as the 6’0 JUCO transfer has the intangibles Tanner relies upon at the point guard position.
Everyone knows what Airion Simmons can do, especially for a man his size. Cam Steele can light it up from the perimeter. And Manny Allen brings his tough-nosed, attack mentality back to Moody Coliseum for one last run.
But, perhaps the biggest name to remember in the purple and white is Ali Dibba. The athleticism, getting downhill, strength, and ability to play much bigger than his 6’4 frame are going to be on display a whole lot more in 2023-24. If Dibba can knock down some perimeter shots, the sky is the limit for the 6’4 junior guard.
A big question on the mind of WAC fans is how will GCU transfer Aidan Igiehon fare at a new school? Igiehon never really found his footing offensively at GCU. However, maybe a change of scenery and a trip home for the offseason helped. The 6’10 forward clogs the paint, can rebound, and has all the physical ability in the world. Can the Tanner and the Wildcats get more out of that ability in 2023-24? If they can, ACU will be dangerous.
Abilene Christian opens 2023-24 on the road with a pair of trips to Power conference land. At Oklahoma State on Nov. 6 before heading to North Carolina State on Nov. 10. And neither of those games is part of an MTE. The Wildcats actually go to the Virgin Islands over Thanksgiving to participate in the Paradise Jam where they face San Jose State first.
Perhaps the biggest game on the non-conference slate comes on Dec. 17 at Moody Coliseum. It may be a bit of an emotional night as former head coach Joe Golding returns when ACU hosts UTEP. It is part of the WAC/Conference USA Alliance. And neither coach wanted this game to happen. It is just how each team ended in the NET in 2022-23. Golding was the head coach when ACU knocked off Texas in the NCAA Tournament in 2021 and Brette Tanner was his associate head coach. Along with that, former Abilene Christian guard Reggie Miller is a grad assistant at UTEP. It will be an emotional night for all involved.
Abilene Christian opens WAC play on Nov. 29 at UT Arlington before hosting SFA on Dec. 2.