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Gaston College basketball off to hot start as athletics program restarts

The Rhinos are playing for the first time in 50 years.

GASTON COUNTY, N.C. — The Gaston College Rhinos are the newest team in town. 

But this is no start-up, this is a restart.

It's the school's first foray into athletics since cutting sports about 50 years ago.

"It's been a special ride starting athletics after 50 years," coach Dickey Nutt said.

Under Nutt, a former Division 1 coach, the mens basketball team has helped jumpstart the entire program.

They're off to a 7-2 start at the junior college level.

"[Coach Nut] calls this thing smoke coming out of your nose and if you don't have smoke coming out of your nose he's not going to put you on the floor," forward Zavion Jackson said. "You've got to be crazy at all times, just crazy."

The Rhinos, who practice in a local church and play home games at three different local high schools, play at Combine Academy in Lincolnton on Thursday night.

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"I can't guarantee we're going to win every game but they do play hard, have some talent," Nutt said, "and they defend pretty good."

Nutt is a former assistant coach for one of Gaston College basketball's most notable alums: current Florida State coach Leonard Hamilton.

And while the roster is currently stocked with talent from Seattle, to Montreal to New York City, the goal is to make this an opportunity for local players, like Jared Funderburk who grew up in West Charlotte.

"It means everything to me," Funderburk said. "Especially where I'm from to where I came from. I'm happy it's going to get bigger and bigger, man."

Nutt wants to lock down the best available recruits within 100 miles of campus.

"There have been so many players coming out of this area that have gone on to become pros," he said. "We think we can capitalize. This is an opportunity for young people around this area. If you think you can play. Call me or email me, because we'll certainly give you a chance."

Right now the college plans to field teams in men's basketball, women's cross country, softball, baseball, beach volleyball and e-sports.

There are also plans to add a soccer team, as well as on-campus athletics facilities.

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