PIKEVILLE, Ky. – For the first time in five years, UPIKE men’s basketball will face an NCAA Division I school in an early-season exhibition, and this time head coach Kelly Wells will face a member of his own coaching tree.
Pikeville will travel south to Mobile, Alabama on November 6 to face the University of South Alabama, led by former Bears assistant Richie Riley in his second season at the helm.
“It’ll be a whirlwind game emotionally at least for myself down in Mobile,” Wells said. “I’m incredibly proud of Richie and it’ll be both exciting and humbling to face him and his team. He’s still a very near and dear friend of mine and I’m incredibly gracious he’s allowed us to come compete against him. These games are a great test for our players, and hopefully a confidence builder to show that they can compete on grand stages.”
Riley was an assistant under Wells for four total seasons, the first at Hawai’i-Pacific in 2005-06, then Wells’ first three years at Pikeville from 2006-09. While at then Pikeville College, Riley was named the “Top NAIA Assistant” by RecruitingRumors.com, which was an early indicator for his path to larger venues.
After leaving the Bears, Riley got his first D-I opportunity by joining the Coastal Carolina coaching staff for two seasons, where he won two consecutive regular season Big South Conference titles. He then joined Eastern Kentucky for the 2011-12 season before accepting a job at Alabama-Birmingham for another two seasons.
From there he took his last assistant job to date at Clemson for two seasons before taking his first head coaching position at Nicholls State in 2016. At Nicholls State, Riley led the Colonels to a 35-28 overall record and went 22-14 in the Southland Conference, including a 15-3 league mark in 2017-18.
Riley coached South Alabama to a 17-17 record, going 13-6 at home in his first season in Mobile. The Jaguars return three players who averaged 30 minutes per game last season, including All-Sun Belt players Josh Ajayi and Trhae Mitchell.
But Richie is not the only Pikeville connection to South Alabama. His wife, formerly Jessica Lovell, was a four-year starting point guard at Pikeville College from 2003-07 and averaged nearly four assists per game and was a four-time Academic All-Conference member. Following her playing career, Jessica stayed in Pikeville to serve as an assistant coach under Bill Watson.
Meanwhile, UPIKE returns nine members of its 2018-19 team that reached the NAIA National Championship Quarterfinals and went 25-9, including NAIA All-America Honorable Mention forward Luke Layhew and All-Mid South Second Team member Xaviar Gaona.