POPLARVILLE, Miss. — As the NCAA opened the 2020-21 season during Thanksgiving week, the schedule was littered with former Pearl River student athletes who honed their craft under the tutelage of reigning NJCAA Coach of the Year Chris Oney.
Among the next-level Wildcats who have opened their season are Isaih Moore (Columbia, S.C.; Sumter) at St. John's, Tae Hardy (Ellenwood, Ga.; Believe Prep) at Southern Miss, Brandon Rachal (Natchitoches, La.; Natchitoches Central) at Tulsa, Kirk Parker (Vicksburg) at Southern University and C.J. Brim (Tupelo; Shannon).
"It's exciting for the college and the program," he said. "In some ways it's our real graduation day, seeing our guys fulfilling their dreams and the last part of the reason they came here."
Oney and his staff made sure they didn't miss the must-see-TV schedule.
"We definitely watched all the games," he said. "They all did well. They all started and helped their teams.
C.J. BRIM: Brim was a catalyst for North Alabama's lopsided 98-74 win over Oakwood on ESPN+ last week. The former Wildcat was just off the Lions' scoring lead with 15 points. He also registered seven rebounds and tied for the team lead in assists with five.
TAE HARDY: Hardy was a force in USM's debut against Jacksonville on ESPN+. The former NJCAA All-American did a little of everything for the Golden Eagles. Not only did he lead USM with 15 points, but also ranked second in rebounds with seven. Hardy finished his Southern Miss debut with two steals and two assists as well.
ISAIH MOORE: Moore is off to a fast start to his year. The former NJCAA All-American nearly recorded a double-double in his debut, a 76-75 win over Saint Peter's on FoxSports 2. Moore scored 12 points with nine rebounds. In his second game in as many days, against La Salle on FoxSports, Moore scored nine points with eight rebounds and a steal. Throughout the tournament, Moore showed off the flash that made him a fan favorite in Poplarville, earning four of the five spots on St. John's Top 5 Plays of the Game from their performance against La Salle.
For his performance, Moore was named to the All-Lapchick Tournament Team.
KIRK PARKER: Parker started for the Jaguars and against North Carolina Central and No. 5 Iowa on Big Ten Network, averaging 5.5 points and 6.5 rebounds. Against NCC, Parker registered three points with five rebounds and then scored eight with eight boards against Big 10 foe Iowa.
BRANDON RACHAL: An AAC All-Conference selection a year ago, Rachal picked up where he left off last week. The former NJCAA All-American averaged 16.5 points and 5.5 rebounds in Tulsa's games against TCU and South Carolina on ESPN 3 and ESPN 2 respectively.. In a narrow five-point loss to TCU, Rachal led Tulsa with 19 points and eight rebounds. He also recorded two blocks, one steal and one assist. Against USA, Rachal once again led the Golden Hurricane with 14 points. He also pulled in three rebounds with one assist and one steal. For his performances, Rachal earned a spot on the American Athletic Conference Honor Roll.
Additionally, Jvari Thigpen (Jackson; Callaway) helped William Carey get off to a 3-3 start. In addition to averaging 5.5 points, Thigpen is third on the team with 6.3 rebounds.
More next-level Wildcats are set to debut in the next 10 days.
Rodgerick Brown (Memphis; Cordova) and New Mexico play Boise State on Thursday.
Jonas James III (Jackson; Murrah) and Jackson State play at Mississippi State on Dec. 8.
Langston Powell (Monroe, La.; West Monroe) and Louisiana-Monroe open their season Thursday at Louisiana Tech.
Cameron Smith (Okolona) and Cal State-Bakersfield open their season Wednesday against Santa Clara.