By Ryan Hoover
After graduating five seniors from last year’s TranSouth Conference championship team, the Union men’s basketball team recruited three junior transfers to fill the void left by the upperclassmen.
Shane Burrell, junior sports management major, Skyler Vaden, junior undecided major, and Antoine Hall, junior digital media studies major, each transferred from their respective junior colleges and are looking to replace the seniors, build on what Union has accomplished in the past and strengthen the Bulldogs from the inside out.
Burrell, standing 6 feet 8 inches tall and weighing 275, puts the power in “power forward” as his broad shoulders and 7-foot-2-inch wingspan allow him to play as if he were 7 feet tall. His midrange jumper and strong post move make him a key offensive threat.
Coach David Niven is impressed with Burrell’s scoring ability and his unselfishness.
“If his shot isn’t there, (Burrell) is smart enough and unselfish enough to not force a shot,” Niven said.
Burrell transferred from Trinidad (Colo.) State Junior College, where he says he matured spiritually due in part to his former head coach, Rich Holden.
“Before Trinidad, I played at Alabama A&M and wasn’t in the best environment,” Burrell said. “Coach Holden’s mentorship helped me grow spiritually and is a big reason I am here at Union.”
Burrell’s maturity and sociable personality make him a vocal leader in the locker room, and his hard work ethic displayed in his 2 a.m. shooting sessions prove he leads by example as well.
Vaden described Burrell as a “rare big man” and looks forward to running the floor with him, which is one of Vaden’s strengths. Though the 6-foot-2-inch guard has a quiet demeanor, Vaden has a strong desire to push himself and his teammates to play better and have fun.
Rich Hughes, Vaden’s former coach at Bakersfield (Calif.) Community College, described his game as well-rounded.
“When you put Skylar on the floor, you get a guy who does everything,” Hughes said. “He’ll push the ball, find the open man, get rebounds, practice hard, be competitive and take zero plays off.”
Hughes also emphasized Vaden’s willingness to sacrifice stats to fulfill specific roles like locking down an opposing player on defense. Last year with Bakersfield, Vaden led the team and was third in the league in steals, averaging more than two per game.
With his ability to guard three different positions, Niven projects Vaden to be the Bulldogs’ best perimeter defender.
Vaden said he knows Hall as his “eating buddy,” but Union fans will soon know him as the team’s sharpshooter. With a pure, long-range shot, the 6-foot-6-inch, 200-pound “small forward” will make a significant influence on offense, but Niven is more concerned with Hall’s ability to replace the defensive proficiency of Keith Tolliver, who graduated last year.
When asked about the challenge of filling Tolliver’s shoes, Hall beamed with excitement as he explained his goals for this season.
“I don’t want to be limited to outside shooting,” Hall said. “I want to put in the work to be an all-around player.”
Hall, who transferred from Gadsden (Ala.) State Community College, learned the importance of team chemistry at his previous school.
“Spending time with each other and hanging out is what grows the team,” Hall said. “There’s a time to be serious, but it takes a combination of both to maintain the tradition Union has built and continue progressing.”