2023-24 North Carolina Sports Network
NC Basketball Spotlight, 10-Year Snapshot:
UNC Asheville

By Evan Rogers
North Carolina Sports Network

School: UNC Asheville

Location: Asheville, N.C.

NCAA DI Member Since: 1986-87

Conference: Big South Conference

Big South Member Since: 1984-85

Big South Ranking Among 32 League (KenPom): 22nd (2023), 24th (2022), 28th (2021), 30th (2020)

NCAA Tournament Bids: 5 (2003, 2011, 2012, 2016, 2023)

Conference Titles: 6 (1989, 2003, 2011, 2012, 2016, 2023)

Conference 1st-Place Finishes: 8 (1997, 1998, 2002, 2008, 2012, 2017, 2018, 2023)

Head Coach: Mike Morrell (41 years old, 6th season at UNCA)

As A Player: Milligan (2000-05)

Record At UNCA (Through Dec. 12): 78-81 (.491) in 5+ seasons

Previous Head Coaching Experience: none

College AC Experience: King (2005-07); Charleston Southern (2010-11); VCU (2011-15); Texas (2015-18)

Assistant Under: J.P. Andrejko, Barclay Radebaugh, Shaka Smart 

2022-23 Record: 27-8, 16-2 (1st in 10-team Big South)

2023-24 Preseason Prediction (Coaches/Media): 1st in 9-team Big South

2023-24 Record (Through Dec. 12): 5-5, 0-0 Big South

2023-24 Midseason Ranking (KenPom): #218 nationally (6th in Big South)

Upcoming Schedule Highlights: Auburn in Huntsville, Ala. (12/13), Appalachian State in Hickory, N.C. (12/21), at UAB (12/29)

Big South Opener: USC Upstate (1/3)

UNC Asheville is looking to prove that last season’s Big South title, and subsequent NCAA Tournament berth, was not a one-off year.

Under the direction of head coach Mike Morrell, who at 41 years old is among the younger head coaches in Division I basketball, the Bulldogs showed steady growth over the past five seasons. In his first season at UNCA (2018-19), the Bulldogs went 4-27, winning just two conference games. Since that rough start, though, UNC Asheville has shown gradual improvement each season, culminating in last year’s conference championship.

Despite the historic season that saw the Bulldogs fall to UCLA in the first round of the NCAA Tournament, Morrell turned the page to this year months ago.

“It was an offseason where there was a lot of reflection,” Morrell said. “Now that you’re into this new year, into this new team, there’s not a lot of reminiscing (of last season), quite frankly. It doesn’t take anything away from last year and the specialness of that, but we’re going to take some of the things we learned from last year.

“The success that we had last year has absolutely nothing to do with the success we’re trying to have this year. It’s a good team. It’s a deep team. I’m sure there’s going to be an enormous target on our back.”

Despite the added pressure that comes with being the defending conference champions, UNC Asheville has the roster to compete for a second straight Big South title. The Bulldogs return seven of their top nine scorers from last year’s championship team.

Leading the charge is graduate forward Drew Pember, last year’s Big South Player of the Year. Pember put up nearly 21 points per game last season, along with nine rebounds, and leads the Bulldogs in scoring again this year. A Tennessee transfer now in his third season with the Bulldogs, Pember has won the Big South Defensive Player of the Year honor the last two seasons and has 191 career blocks.

“A lot of people ask, ‘Where can he (Pember) get better? (I say), ‘Everywhere,’” Morrell said. “He needs to get better everywhere, and that’s the special thing about him. He really enjoys being coached. He wants to be coached. He kind of yearns to be coached, and when he doesn’t get coached the way he wants it, he asks for it.”

One of the biggest question marks for Morrell’s team coming into this year, and a main reason the Bulldogs got off to a subpar 5-5 start, is their lack of perimeter shooting. Through their first 10 games this year, they shot 34 percent from beyond the arc, compared to last season’s 39-percent clip.

UNC Asheville lost guard Taijon Jones — the program’s all-time leading scorer — to graduation. Jones made 363 career 3-pointers and shot 45 percent from long distance last season.


2023-24 UNC Asheville Bulldogs
(5-5, 0-0 Big South; through Dec. 12)


PG Caleb Burgess*, Gr. — 25 mpg, 6 ppg, 3 rpg, 39% FG, 56% FT, 27% threes, 50/18 ATO, 1 block, 6 steals
(6-3/185); 2022 Hofstra transfer (2-year starter); Hudson (N.C.) Moravian and Winston-Salem, N.C.

G Fletcher Abee*, Sr. — 27 mpg, 13 ppg, 2 rpg, 45% FG, 95% FT, 46% threes, 10/10 ATO, 2 blocks, 5 steals
(6-4/190); 2021 Citadel transfer (2-year starter); from Freedom HS and Morganton, N.C.

G Josh Banks, Sr. — 27 mpg, 12 ppg, 4 rpg, 39% FG, 87% FT, 33% threes, 9/13 ATO, 3 block, 6 steals
(6-5/175); 2023 VCU transfer (3-year reserve); from Olympic HS and Charlotte, N.C.

F Nick McMullen*, Sr. — 23 mpg, 9 ppg, 6 rpg, 58% FG, 42% FT, 9/17 ATO, 3 blocks, 10 steals
(6-8/237); 2022 Murray State transfer (2-year reserve); Ben L. Smith HS and Greensboro, N.C.

F Drew Pember*, Gr. — 24 mpg, 18 ppg, 7 rpg, 50% FG, 81% FT, 40% threes, 30/26 ATO, 16 blocks, 8 steals
(6-11/215); 2021 Tennessee transfer (2-year reserve); Big South POY/DPOY; Knoxville, Tenn.

Key Reserves

G Davion Cunningham, So. — 15 mpg, 5 ppg, 3 rpg, 42% FG, 67% FT, 0% threes, 12/7 ATO, 1 block, 8 steals
(6-3/165); minimal PT in 2022-23; from North Mecklenburg HS and Charlotte, N.C.

G Evan Johnson, Jr. — 13 mpg, 6 ppg, 1 rpg, 37% FG, 100% FT, 28% threes, 18/5 ATO, 0 blocks, 1 steal
(5-11/165); 2023 Georgia State transfer (3-year reserve); from Oak Hill Academy and Durham, N.C.

G Dean Gabrelcik, r-So. — 10 mpg, 6 ppg, 2 rpg, 33% FG, 0% FT, 30% threes, 3/2 ATO, 1 block, 2 steals
(6-4/213); minimal PT in 2022-23; from East Lake HS and East Lake, Fla.

F Jamon Battle, Gr. — 22 mpg, 6 ppg, 5 rpg, 57% FG, 48% FT, 29% threes, 12/11 ATO, 4 blocks, 6 steals
(6-5/207); 5-year contributor/part-time starter; from LC Bird HS and Richmond, Va.

F Toyaz Solomon, Jr. — 14 mpg, 6 ppg, 3 rpg, 68% FG, 61% FT, 20% threes, 5/4 ATO, 10 blocks, 3 steals
(6-9/185); 2023 Caldwell CC transfer (region POY/DPOY); Northwest Halifax HS and Enfield, N.C.

*—returning starter (started at least 50% of current team’s games last season)

UNC Asheville Bulldogs
10-Year Snapshot

Season — Overall, League (Place), Postseason

2022-23 — 27-8, 16-2* Big South (1st), NCAA 1st Round (Mike Morrell)
2021-22 — 17-15, 8-8 Big South (5th), CBI Quarterfinals (Mike Morrell)
2020-21 — 10-10, 9-5 Big South (4th), no postseason (Mike Morrell)
2019-20 — 15-16, 8-10 Big South (5th), no postseason (Mike Morrell)
2018-19 — 4-27, 2-14 Big South (10th), no postseason (Mike Morrell)
2017-18 — 21-13, 13-5 Big South (1st), NIT 1st Round (Nick McDevitt)
2016-17 — 23-10, 15-3 Big South (t-1st), CIT 1st Round (Nick McDevitt)
2015-16 — 22-12, 12-6* Big South (3rd), NCAA 1st Round (Nick McDevitt)
2014-15 — 15-16, 10-8 Big South (6th), no postseason (Nick McDevitt)
2013-14 — 17-15, 10-6 Big South (4th), no postseason (Nick McDevitt)

*—conference champion

NOTE: Please visit the North Carolina Sports Network’s 2023-24 profiles and 10-year snapshots for all 19 Division One men’s basketball programs in North Carolina.

Appalachian State Mountaineers, Sun Belt Conference

Charlotte 49ers, American Athletic Conference

Davidson Wildcats, Atlantic-10 Conference

East Carolina Pirates, American Athletic Conference

High Point Panthers, Big South Conference

NC Central Eagles, Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference

North Carolina A&T Aggies, Coastal Athletic Association

UNC Greensboro Spartans, Southern Conference

UNC Wilmington Seahawks, Coastal Athletic Association

Western Carolina Catamounts, Southern Conference