2023-24 North Carolina Sports Network
NC Basketball Spotlight, 10-Year Snapshot:
Appalachian State

By David Glenn
North Carolina Sports Network

NOTE: The audio/video link to our recent 1-on-1 interview with App State head coach Dustin Kerns, in which we discuss his life, career and accomplishments in much greater detail, is at the bottom of this article.

School: Appalachian State

Location: Boone, N.C.

NCAA DI Member Since: 1971-72

Conference: Sun Belt Conference (SBC)

SBC Member Since: 2014-15

SBC Ranking Among 32 Leagues (KenPom): 14th (2023), 17th (2022), 21st (2021), 14th (2020)

NCAA Tournament Bids: 3 (1979, 2000, 2021)

Conference Titles: 3 (1979 and 2000 in SoCon; 2021 in SBC)

Conference 1st-Place Finishes: 10 (1978, 1979, 1981, 1998, 1999, 2000, 2003, 2007, 2008, 2010)

Head Coach: Dustin Kerns (43 years old, fifth season at App State)

As A Player: did not play in college (2002 Clemson graduate)

Record At App State (Through Jan. 26): 86-62 (.581)  in 4+ seasons

Previous Head Coaching Experience: Presbyterian (two seasons, 31-37)

College AC Experience: Santa Clara (2007-13), Wofford (2004-07; 2013-17)

Assistant Under: Kerry Keating, Mike Young

2022-23 Record: 16-16, 9-9 (7th in 14-team SBC)

2023-24 Preseason Prediction (Coaches): 2nd in 14-team SBC

2023-24 Record (Through Jan. 26): 16-4, 7-1 SBC

2023-24 Midseason Ranking (KenPom): #79 nationally (2nd in SBC)

Upcoming Schedule Highlights: James Madison (1/27), at Georgia State (2/1), Toledo (2/10), Marshall (2/15), Louisiana (2/17)

Appalachian State coach Dustin Kerns clearly doesn’t mind challenging jobs. Now he may have the Mountaineers on the verge of something truly special.

Near the end of January, among the state of North Carolina’s 19 Division One men’s basketball teams, only three were favored to win their respective league’s regular-season championship: UNC (16-3, 8-0) in the Atlantic Coast Conference, High Point (17-4, 6-0) in the Big South Conference, and App State (16-4, 7-1) in the Sun Belt Conference.

The foundation of the Mountaineers’ success this season has been their incredibly effective defense. Among 362 teams nationally, they rank second in defensive field goal percentage, at 37.2 percent.

“We emphasize (defense), and we’ve gotten our guys to buy into it,” Kerns said. “I think in the last six, seven years, there has not been a team in a league like ours — quote, a one-bid league — that played in the NCAA Tournament that has not been in the top three of their league in defense.

“Sharing that with our guys, they automatically buy in. Really good defensive teams win.”

This is not the first time Kerns has led one of his teams in a special direction.

Presbyterian had never enjoyed any significant success as a Division One program and had won only five games the season before Kerns took the school’s head coaching job. During his second season with the Blue Hose, in 2018-19, he led them to their first — and still only — winning record (20-16) and their first — and still only — postseason invitation (CIT). Since Kerns’ departure, the program has won less than 30 percent of its games.

In its first 49 years as a Division One member, App State had been to only two NCAA Tournaments: in 1979, under 31-year-old head coach Bobby Cremins (who left for Georgia Tech in 1981), and in 2000, under 36-year-old coach Buzz Peterson (who left immediately for Tulsa). In both years, the Mountaineers won the Southern Conference title and received the league’s automatic bid to the Big Dance.

In just his second season at App State, in 2020-21, Kerns led the Mountaineers to their first Sun Belt championship (and automatic NCAA bid) and their third all-time NCAA Tournament invitation. Now in his fifth season in Boone, Kerns has built a seemingly strong foundation that combines player retention/development with top-notch team defense.

Kerns’ 2023-24 roster, which returned four of last year’s starters (see below) and more than 130 career starts, created the highest expectations for the App State men’s basketball program in many years. In their preseason poll, the Sun Belt’s head coaches picked the Mountaineers to finish second, behind only James Madison.

“Listen, expectations are a good thing, but it just can’t be our focus,” Kerns said. “North Carolina was preseason #1 last year, and they didn’t even make the (NCAA Tournament). UConn wasn’t ranked, and they end up winning the national championship.

“We’re at our best when we’ve got that chip on our shoulder and we’ve got something to prove. We’re focused on the process it takes to be a good team — getting better in the film room, getting better in practice every day.”

With their early annihilation (86-56) of a UNC Wilmington team that later shocked Kentucky in Lexington, then their shocking upset (69-64) of Auburn in Boone on Dec. 3, the Mountaineers certainly looked like one of the Sun Belt’s favorites during the non-conference portion of the schedule. Auburn continues to be among the nation’s most successful teams, with its 16-3 record and #8 poll ranking.

Among the highlights of App State’s 7-1 start in conference play was its 59-55 victory at preseason Sun Belt favorite James Madison, which entered its Jan. 27 rematch in Boone with a sparkling 18-2 mark overall.

Utilizing a frequently rotating nine-man lineup in which no player averages more than 28 minutes per game (that’s extremely unusual), App State manages to maintain its defensive intensity for 40 minutes and typically does an excellent job of protecting the paint and controlling the defensive boards.

2023-24 App State Mountaineers
(16-4, 7-1 SBC; through Jan. 26)


G Xavion Brown, Jr. — 18 mpg, 3 ppg, 4 rpg, 53% FG, 41% FT, 0 threes, 52/35 ATO, 7 blocks, 13 steals
(6-3/180); part-time starter (21 mpg, 5 ppg) in 2023; Sheldon HS; Sacramento, Calif.

Terence Harcum*, Jr. — 26 mpg, 10 ppg, 2 rpg, 36% FG, 74% FT, 32% threes, 18/15 ATO, 3 blocks, 16 steals
(6-3/190); 28 mpg, 11 ppg in 2022-23; Granville Central HS; Butner, N.C.

Donovan Gregory*, Gr. — 27 mpg, 13 ppg, 5 rpg, 49% FG, 81% FT, 36% threes, 59/39 ATO, 7 blocks, 20 steals
(6-3/190); 4-year starter; 2023 3rd-team All-SBC; Carmel Christian; Charlotte, N.C.

Tre’Von Spillers, Jr. — 28 mpg, 14 ppg, 9 rpg, 65% FG, 62% FT, 0 threes, 8/15 ATO, 32 blocks, 10 steals
(6-7/205); 2023 1st-team NJCAA All-American; Moberly Area CC; Charleston, S.C.

Justin Abson*, So. — 22 mpg, 7 ppg, 7 rpg, 57% FG, 38% FT, 22% threes, 23/17 ATO, 53 blocks, 7 steals
(6-9/235); 6 ppg, 6 rpg, 2 bpg in 2022-23; North Broward Prep; Pompano Beach, Fla.

Key Reserves

PG Jordan Marsh, Fr. — 14 mpg, 7 ppg, 2 rpg, 39% FG, 56% FT, 28% threes, 33/12 ATO, 6 blocks, 15 steals
(5-10/165); led Moravian (N.C.) Prep to 33-4 record as senior; Charlotte, N.C.

Myles Tate, Jr. — 22 mpg, 8 ppg, 3 rpg, 36% FG, 76% FT, 25% threes, 66/37 ATO, 2 blocks, 22 steals
(6-0/170); 2023 Butler transfer (part-time starter); Dorman HS; Spartanburg, S.C.

Christopher Mantis, Jr. — 17 mpg, 7 ppg, 2 rpg, 40% FG, 25% FT, 37% threes, 18/7 ATO, 4 blocks, 10 steals
(6-7/185): 17 mpg, 7 ppg in 2022-23; Lowell HS; Lowell, Ind.

CJ Huntley*, Sr. — 24 mpg, 8 ppg, 5 rpg, 51% FG, 65% FT, 30% threes, 22/18 ATO, 17 blocks, 11 steals
(6-11/221); 27 mpg, 9 ppg, 6 rpg in 2022-23; Davidson Day; Huntersville, N.C.

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

Appalachian State Mountaineers
10-Year Snapshot

Season — Overall, League (Place), Postseason
2022-23 — 16-16, 9-9 SBC (7th), no postseason (Dustin Kerns)
2021-22 — 19-15, 12-6 SBC (2nd), TBC 1st Round (Dustin Kerns)
2020-21 — 17-12, 7-8* SBC (7th), NCAA First Four (Dustin Kerns)
2019-20 — 18-15, 11-9 SBC (6th), no postseason (Dustin Kerns)
2018-19 — 11-21, 6-12 SBC (10th), no postseason (Jim Fox)
2017-18 — 15-18, 9-9 SBC (5th), no postseason (Jim Fox)
2016-17 — 9-21, 4-14 SBC (11th), no postseason (Jim Fox)
2015-16 — 9-22, 7-13 SBC (9th), no postseason (Jim Fox)
2014-15 — 12-17, 9-11 SBC (6th), no postseason (Jim Fox)
2013-14 — 9-21, 5-11 SoCon (9th), no postseason (Jason Capel)

*—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 and all 15 Atlantic Coast Conference programs.

Appalachian State Mountaineers, Sun Belt Conference

Boston College Eagles, Atlantic Coast Conference

Campbell Camels, Coastal Athletic Association

Charlotte 49ers, American Athletic Conference

Davidson Wildcats, Atlantic-10 Conference

Duke Blue Devils, Atlantic Coast Conference

East Carolina Pirates, American Athletic Conference

Elon Phoenix, Coastal Athletic Association

Gardner-Webb Runnin’Bulldogs, Big South Conference

High Point Panthers, Big South Conference

Louisville Cardinals, Atlantic Coast Conference

NC Central Eagles, Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference

NC State Wolfpack, Atlantic Coast Conference

North Carolina Tar Heels, Atlantic Coast Conference

North Carolina A&T Aggies, Coastal Athletic Association

Notre Dame Fighting Irish, Atlantic Coast Conference

Pitt Panthers, Atlantic Coast Conference

Queens Royals, Atlantic Sun Conference

Syracuse Orange, Atlantic Coast Conference

UNC Asheville Bulldogs, Big South Conference

UNC Greensboro Spartans, Southern Conference

UNC Wilmington Seahawks, Coastal Athletic Association

Virginia Cavaliers, Atlantic Coast Conference

Virginia Tech Hokies, Atlantic Coast Conference

Wake Forest Demon Deacons, Atlantic Coast Conference

Western Carolina Catamounts, Southern Conference