UAPB set for ‘personal’ home games

Joe French of UAPB plays defense against Alabama A&M in a Jan. 6 home game. (Pine Bluff Commercial/I.C. Murrell)
Joe French of UAPB plays defense against Alabama A&M in a Jan. 6 home game. (Pine Bluff Commercial/I.C. Murrell)

Two opponents with personal connections to current members of the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff men’s basketball team will travel to H.O. Clemmons Arena this weekend.

UAPB will host Florida A&M at 3 p.m. today and Bethune-Cookman at 7:30 p.m. Monday.

UAPB (6-10, 1-2 SWAC) head coach Solomon Bozeman played one season for current Florida A&M head coach Robert McCullum at South Florida, and UAPB guard Joe French transferred from Bethune-Cookman in the offseason.

Bozeman said McCullum taught him discipline.

“I come from a family, a father that was super, super disciplined, but Coach [McCullum] was all about discipline,” Bozeman said. “He was always about doing the right things. I know his team, Florida A&M, is going to be disciplined.” Bozeman played for McCullum as a freshman during the 2006-07 season, after which McCullum left USF to coach Nigeria’s men’s national basketball team. Bozeman played one more season for USF before transferring back to his home state to finish his collegiate career in Little Rock. McCullum made several stops as an assistant coach before FAMU (2-12, 0-3) hired him as head coach in 2017.

McCullum and Bozeman split their previous two match-ups with the road team winning each game.

French came to UAPB this offseason as a graduate transfer from Bethune-Cookman (7-9, 2-1). As a freshman, the Orlando, Fla., native started 14 games and was named to the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference all-rookie team. He was the Wildcats’ leading scorer in the 2021-22 season, averaging 15.8 points per game. He was named to the all-SWAC second team, then was last year’s preseason SWAC offensive player of the year.

French played against the Golden Lions twice, scoring 14 points in Pine Bluff on Jan. 17, 2022, and 11 points in Daytona Beach, Fla., on Jan. 16, 2023. UAPB won both games.

French has been out with an illness this week and wasn’t available for comment, but Bozeman said he should be able to play, and it will be great for French to play his old school.

“Any time you play against a former school, it’s going to be some type of pride,” Bozeman said. “Especially Joe. I know who Joe is as a kid and as a human being, how much he really works at the game. It’s going to be personal for him.” UAPB enters this weekend’s games with some momentum after defeating preseason SWAC favorite Texas Southern 70-67 in Houston on Jan. 13. The Golden Lions were scheduled to play Prairie View A&M two days later, but the game was postponed because of wintry weather. That win came after starting SWAC play 0-2 with home losses. With two more home games coming up, guard Lonnell Martin Jr. said the Golden Lions take pride in defending their home court.

“It’s a big thing,” he said. “You don’t want nobody coming in your backyard, eating off your plate. So we haven’t done good in the past, but we definitely need to change that, turn to a new chapter.” FA M U a n d Bethune-Cookman played their first three SWAC games in Florida. Bethune beat FAMU 98-86 in Daytona Beach, then the two schools hosted Grambling State and Southern at their respective home gyms. Both lost to Grambling, while Southern split its two games in Florida after losing 83-81 in overtime to Bethune-Cookman.

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