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JCSU women hit stride with younger Joyner
Golden Bulls win with new roster, second-year coach
Published Thursday, January 9, 2014 6:17 am
by Herbert L. White

After a rocky first season as Johnson C. Smith women’s basketball coach, Steve Joyner Jr. vowed his second would be better.

johnson C. Smith guard Deanna Downer (left) and center Chelsea Faulhaber (right) have helped the Golden Bulls to a six-game win streak and 8-4 record.

It’s working out pretty well so far.

The Golden Bulls are on a six-game win streak, unbeaten at home and 8-4 overall going into a Jan. 9 CIAA game at Chowan. Joyner, son of JCSU men’s coach Steve Joyner Sr. knew he had to get the program in gear after a six-win campaign last year.

“I made a promise to my president (Ronald Carter) when he told me he wanted me to be the man here at work that I would get him a winning program,” Joyner said. “That’s what we’re going to do.”

That was the expectation for Joyner, who grew up around Golden Bulls basketball and was the point guard on the 2001 team that won the school’s first CIAA championship and advanced to the Division II Elite Eight. That background raised the stakes for a coach coming back to his alma mater to take over a women’s program that was among the CIAA’s elite under Vanessa Taylor, who left for Division I N.C. Central.

“One thing I always try to get my players to understand is why I take it so seriously,” Joyner said. “This is not a general situation where it’s just a coach from somewhere else coming to coach at a university. I grew up on this campus, I played here, I coached here as an assistant and now I’m back as a head coach. I have a lot of pride in what I do here.”

That drive and a remade roster have translated to success. The Golden Bulls are paced by Karnina Bunch, who averages 16.5 points a game, and Deanna Downer, who averages 12 points and a team-high 5.3 rebounds an outing. JCSU has been unbeatable at home, going 6-0 at Brayboy Gym.

 “We have 10 new players right now with the addition of Amena Brent in the second semester,” Joyner said. “Any time you have an overhaul of kids like that it’s going to take some time for them to gel like together and buy into the program and that’s what we’ve been preaching over the last month and a half.”

It also helps to have good chemistry, something JCSU has gotten from a mix of veterans and newcomers who’ve meshed relatively quickly.

“You try to find that leadership within the ranks,” Joyner said. “Right now, Deanna Downer, Karnina Bunch and Chelsea Faulhaber (6.7 points per game) have stepped up a little bit along with Shanel Sweet, who’s a transfer from Queens. (They) are the leaders in practice, so instead of me yelling at (players) all the time, I’m starting to hear them yell. Any time you see players yell more than the coaches, you know you’re headed in the right direction.”

JCSU isn’t overwhelming opponents with a scoring differential of one point per game on average, but the Golden Bulls are winning. Five of their victories during the streak have been by single digits, including three by three points or less, but more important, Joyner says, is the players under his expectation “to give back to the university and also continue to build the university as far as the women’s basketball program.

“They’re starting to understand that,” he said, “but again, all the credit goes to the kids and the work they’re putting in at practice and starting to see on the floor.” 



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