Updates on Kyle Freeland, Mislav Brzoja and a UE men’s basketball target

Some news and notes regarding University of Evansville athletics:

— Former UE left-hander and 2014 MLB first-round draft pick Kyle Freeland made his second professional start Monday night for the Grand Junction (Colorado) Rockies, Colorado’s Rookie League affiliate.

Freeland tossed three innings, allowing four hits and one earned run while striking out two. In his first appearance, Freeland pitched two scoreless innings, so his ERA is currently a solid 1.80.

Mislav Brzoja, a 6-4 guard who has three season of eligibility remaining with the Aces beginning with 2014-15, is midway through the European Championships playing for Croatia’s U20 national team.

Through five games in which Croatia has gone 2-3, the Villanova transfer is averaging 30 minutes, 9.8 points, 8.8 rebounds and 2.0 assists. Brzoja is also tied for the team high with 3.4 turnovers per game.

Although Brzoja is not currently working out on campus like many of his UE teammates, playing in a structured environment (and for 30 minutes per game) against quality competition is a productive use of his summer. And Aces fans probably like those rebounding numbers considering UE finished second-to-last in rebounding margin last year in the Missouri Valley Conference (minus-2.1).

The U20 European Championships are being held in Crete, Greece.

— This tweet from Wednesday lists Evansville among four Division I schools that have offered scholarships to Class of 2015 forward Dean Wade.

The 6-foot-8 Wade averaged 22.1 points, 8.1 rebounds and 3.7 blocks during his junior season for St. John (Kansas) High School. His team finished 26-0 and won the Class 2A state title.

Here is a video of Wade dunking in the state championship game that is pretty entertaining for three reasons: 1) it’s a nice move; 2) the commentator cackles like a madman; and 3) Wade gets knocked over awkwardly by the guy taking the ball out of bounds.

Wade is listed as a three-star prospect by Rivals.com.

ESPN analyst lauds UE men’s basketball commit’s physical play

On Thursday night, ESPN recruiting analyst Reggie Rankin tweeted about 6-foot-9 class of 2015 power forward Dainius Chatkevicius, linking him to Evansville and lauding his physical play and willingness to do the dirty work to help his team.

This is the first I’ve heard of Chatkevicius; in fact, if you Google “Chatkevicius Evansville,” you won’t find anything other than the tweet that links the 245-pound forward to UE.

While it’s often tough to find much on European players — Chatkevicius is from Lithuania — I was able to dig up a few tidbits about him.

  • The 19-year-old (born July 9, 1995) played sparingly on his country’s U18 national team last year during the European Championships. He averaged 10.6 minutes in nine games, recording 2.3 points and 1.3 rebounds per contest. He had a high of six points in a 74-70 win over Serbia.
  • He plays high school ball in the States at West Oaks Academy in Orlando, Florida, and with a respected AAU program in Florida Elite.

 

The recruitment of Chatkevicius continues UE head coach Marty Simmons’ trend of going after European players, and Lithuanians in particular. Starting big man Egidijus Mockevicius is from Lithuania, and so is Rokas Cesnulevicius — who was granted a medical exemption this spring due to injury. Cesnulevicius will no longer play for the Aces but retained his scholarship and will remain with the team in an off-the-court capacity.

Another European, 6-4 Mislav Brzoja from Croatia, is expected to contribute this year after sitting out last season following his transfer from Villanova. Sergej Vucetic, a 7-foot-1 center from Serbia, will sit out this season after transferring from Nebraska.

Freeland throws two scoreless innings in pro debut

Kyle Freeland’s much-hyped professional debut was short-lived, but the two innings he did pitch were characteristic of his stellar performance at the University of Evansville.

The Colorado Rockies’ 2014 first-round draft choice made his professional debut Wednesday night with Colorado’s Rookie League affiliate — the Grand Junction (Colorado) Rockies — and threw two shutout innings while hurling 15 of his 17 pitches for strikes.

Freeland struck out two batters, allowed three hits and touched 96 mph on the radar gun, according to this tweet from a Grand Junction sportswriter.

Freeland was the 2014 Missouri Valley Conference Pitcher of the Year after going 10-2 with a 1.90 ERA during his junior season. He ranked in the top five in Division I in strikeouts (128), strikeouts per nine innings (11.56) and strikeout-to-walk ratio (10.67). The Rockies selected him eighth overall in the 2014 MLB First-Year Player Draft, then signed him to a contract with a $2.3 million signing bonus.

Simmons discusses personnel, areas to improve

During Marty Simmons’ segment of the Missouri Valley Conference men’s basketball coaches’ conference call Tuesday, the University of Evansville head coach discussed some of his players and key areas he’d like to see the Aces improve this season.

Full audio for the entire conference call can be found here. Below are the highlights from Simmons’ segment:

On shooting guard D.J. Balentine, the MVC’s leading scorer last season, and Balentine’s continued improvement: “He certainly had an outstanding season for us, but I think he’s a real driven young man (and) wants to get better defensively, rebounding. He did a terrific job of getting to the free-throw line. Just the overall leadership, he’s not on the floor as vocal as he his off the floor, but he’s just taking the role as more of a leader.”

On Mislav Brzoja, a 6-foot-4 Villanova transfer who will be eligible to play this season after sitting out the 2013-14 campagin. Brzoja is currently in Croatia playing for his country’s U-20 national team: “He’s really a good all-around player, a good versatile player, can play anywhere from 1-4, shoots the 3, good passer; a strong, athletic kid who has a lot of experience.”

On Willie Wiley, a 6-7 junior-college transfer from Vincennes University: “We have not been a good offensive rebounding team and he adds to that with his length. He’s got good hands and he comes from a program that’s had a lot of success. … He’s a terrific kid and someone who wants to be really good. I think he’s gonna bring a different dimension to our basketball team.”

On Taylor Stafford, a combo guard who transferred from Eastern Arizona College: “He can shoot the 3 off the catch, off the dribble. He’s really quick, really athletic, someone that has a terrific attitude and wants to be good.”

On trying to develop leaders on last season’s young team, and continuing that process this year: “We certainly tried to cultivate it. We have a small group of young men that we meet with weekly, just talking about it and encouraging it in different ways, but certainly addressing it. It’s not an easy thing. We probably don’t have any natural leaders; we’ve got a lot of guys that certainly can lead by example, but (not) the voiceful, emotional type of leader that I think’s important for teams to have. We’ll continue to work on that, but I think somebody will certainly come forward.”

On what Simmons would like to see the Aces improve from last season, when they finished 14-19:  “We’ve just gotta have a better mentality; we’ve gotta be harder-nosed, and that includes rebounding. That starts with the head coach, down through the staff and to the players. We’ve gotta be harder to score against.”

“Offensively, just being a more consistent shooting basketball team. I think at times, we shot the ball very well. Other times we didn’t. We’ve worked really hard here in the offseason. Guys are getting tons of shots up. I think that’s an area that will be better for us than in the past.”

“Being stronger with the basketball, not turning it over.”

Aces release strong men’s soccer schedule

The University of Evansville men’s soccer program released an ambitious 2014 schedule on Wednesday, highlighted by nonconference home matches in October against Indiana University and the University of Kentucky.

The Aces will play five matches against teams that participated in last year’s NCAA tournament, three against teams that finished in the top 50 of the Ratings Percentage Index (RPI) and nine against teams that finished in the top 100 of the RPI.

“We always pride ourselves in looking to test our team against the top teams in the nation, and we believe our 2014 schedule will do so,” head coach Mike Jacobs said in a press release.

Evansville will host Division II Bellarmine on Aug. 18 in its first exhibition match. The Aces will also play Cincinnati and Indianapolis in preseason matchups at Arad McCutchan Stadium.

Here are all the Aces’ home matches this season:

Fri., Sept. 5                 vs. Belmont

Sun., Sept. 7               vs. Lipscomb

Fri., Sept. 19               vs. Mercer

Sun., Sept. 21             vs. Marshall

Mon., Sept. 29           vs. SIU Edwardsville

Sat., Oct. 4                  vs. Central Arkansas

Wed., Oct. 15              vs. Kentucky

Wed., Oct. 29              vs. Indiana

Sat., Nov. 1                 vs. Loyola

 

 

 

A chat with Marty Simmons

I met University of Evansville men’s basketball coach Marty Simmons Thursday, and it didn’t take long for us to start chatting about next season.

The discussion centered around the Aces’ junior college transfers — 6-foot-1 combo guard Taylor Stafford and 6-7 power forward Willie Wiley — but Simmons also touched on other topics, including how star guard D.J. Balentine informed him that 6-10 center Egidijus Mockevicius has been drilling 3-pointers in workouts. Simmons laughed when he said this, so don’t expect Mackevicius to abandon the low post and start hoisting treys this season.

Anyway, here is what Simmons had to say:

On Wiley: “He’s long and he’s got shot-blocking ability. The neat thing is he has the ability to step out and make perimeter jump shots, but we think one of his greatest assets is the glass. He’s got big hands, he’s long and he’s athletic. He’ll not only help us on the defensive glass, but give us something that we’ve lacked in an offensive rebounding threat.”

On Stafford: “He’s kind of an Energizer bunny. He’s got a high motor and he loves basketball. He can score. He’s a good shooter, elevates on his jumper.”

We talked about how UE brings back everyone who contributed at the end of last season (Ryan Sawvell was a key piece before transferring mid-season), and where the transfers would fit in.

Simmons: “When you have a bunch of guys back, it’s always interesting to see how the new guys (fit). They both have good personalities and are both big team guys. I think they both bring some qualities that maybe we didn’t have.”

“I just think from a depth standpoint, going into it, this is our best group. We feel like we’ve got a lot of versatility, a lot of flexibility. We can play big, we can play small, we’ve got some athletic teams we can put out there, got some guys that can shoot the ball. The neat part’s gonna be the competition — we’re going to have more competition in practice every day than I think we’ve ever had here.”

The players are lifting weights and conditioning this summer in addition to the allotted two hours of individual instruction per week with the coaching staff.

 

 

UE summer baseball assignments

The University of Evansville athletic department released the summer-league destinations of 17 baseball players. The Aces will play in eight different collegiate leagues across the country, from the nearby Dubois County Bombers (Joe Redburn, Eric McKibban) to St. Cloud, Minnesota (Matt Rodgers, Northwoods League), to Marysville, California (Alex Gould, Horizon Air Summer Series).

Here is the complete list of summer assignments for UE players:

PLAYER TEAM LEAGUE
Max Foley Hamilton Joes Great Lakes League
Alex Gould Marysville Gold Sox Horizon Air Summer Series
Brian Jestice Hamilton Joes Great Lakes League
Brent Jurceka Waterloo Bucks Northwoods League
Eric McKibban Dubois County Bombers Ohio Valley League
Stewart Nelson DuPage County Hounds Midwest Collegiate League
Jarod Perry Sedalia Bombers M.I.N.K League
Kyle Pollock Waterloo Bucks Northwoods League
Jonathan Ramon Sedalia Bombers M.I.N.K League
Joe Redburn Dubois County Bombers Ohio Valley League
Matt Rodgers St. Cloud Rox Northwoods League
Patrick Schnieders Richmond RiverRats Prospect League
Shain Showers Sedalia Bombers M.I.N.K League
Tyler Sullivan Northern Ohio Baseball Club Tri-State League
Boomer Synek Mankato MoonDogs Northwoods League
Jimmy Ward Hamilton Joes Great Lakes League
Devin Williams Hamilton Joes Great Lakes League

UE’s Freeland No. 8 pick in Baseball America Mock Draft 3.0

Kyle Freeland, University of Evansville’s left-handed ace, was tabbed as the No. 8 overall pick in the Baseball America Mock Draft 3.0. The projection has the Denver native going to his hometown Colorado Rockies.

Freeland, a junior, had been projected as the No. 4 pick in the Mock Draft 2.0, but struggled in his final start of the season. In the first round of the Missouri Valley Conference Tournament, he lasted a season-low five innings and allowed five hits, four earned runs and an uncharacteristic four walks. The Aces lost that game 9-1 to Southern Illinois and dropped an 8-6 decision to Wichita State the following day, likely ending their season after winning the program’s second regular-season MVC championship.

The MVC Pitcher of the Year finished the season 10-2 with a 1.90 ERA, 128 strikeouts and 13 walks in 99 2/3 innings.

It’s difficult to determine whether Freeland’s rocky final outing played a role in sliding a few slots in the Baseball America’s projections, but his overall body of work is expected to keep him in the top 10 overall picks. That means a big payday, as shown by this list of the MLB’s assigned signing bonus values for each draft slot. Each player chosen in the top 10 picks is expected to receive a signing bonus of about $3 million or more.

These draft values are just guidelines; teams and players may agree on signing bonuses higher or lower than the amount shown. Franchises add the assigned values of all of their picks together and draw from that pool to provide bonuses to new draftees. They can surpasses their allotted bonus pool amount, but are penalized if they do so via taxation or — in extreme cases — loss of draft picks.

UE women’s basketball signs left-handed shooting guard

University of Evansville women’s basketball coach Oties Epps announced his sixth offseason signing Thursday in Kenyia Johnson, a 5-foot-8 shooting guard from Fleming Island High School in Orange Park, Florida. The left-handed slasher will join the Aces this fall.

During three years as a varsity starter, Johnson rewrote the Fleming Island record books. She now holds the career records for points (1,206), assists (242), steals (274), blocked shots (140) and rebounds (407).

As a senior, she averaged 17.1 points, 5.9 rebounds, 4.1 steals, 3.4 assists and 2.1 blocks. She also shot 49.6 percent from the field.

Here are some quotes on Johnson signing with UE. The consensus seems to be that she’s athletic and good at driving to the basket.

Johnson, on why she chose UE: “The coaching staff, they rubbed off really nice. They were really cool people. The team all texted me and congratulated me and was really welcoming. I took a tour of it and I just liked it, the area. It just seemed like the college I wanted to go to.”

Johnson, on her style of play: “I’m a 1, 2 and 3 guard and I usually just play either one of those positions. I’m pretty explosive; I like to play with a lot of energy on the court. I’m a dominant left-hander and I like taking the ball to the basket.”

UE head coach Oties Epps:  “Kenyia is a well-rounded player and is an explosive athlete on both sides of the ball. She excels in the open court and she has the unique ability to get to the rim and finish. We anticipate Kenyia having an immediate impact within our program both on and off the court.”

Her high school head coach, Kim Pereia:She’s a good ballhander. She kind of played the two guard for us because we already had someone at point, but she’s very much a dribble-penetrator.”

“She makes pretty good decisions with the ball and she’s not afraid to take it to the basket. She’s very, very athletic. Physically, she looks good — strong and fast.”

 

 

UE baseball needs some MVC tourney magic for NCAA bid

Considering the Missouri Valley Conference is the sixth-best baseball league in the Ratings Percentage Index (RPI), one would guess that the outright regular-season champion is a lock for an NCAA tournament bid, right?

Wrong.

The University of Evansville, after dropping a 9-1 decision to No. 8 seed Southern Illinois on Tuesday, is in serious danger of missing the tournament.

Despite beating Indiana State by a game in the MVC, the Aces — who dropped to 34-20 Tuesday — entered the week far behind the Sycamores (35-14) in the RPI. Indiana State was 18th in Monday’s rankings, third-place MVC team Dallas Baptist was 34th and UE was 62nd. Complete RPI rankings can be found here.

Typically, teams need to be in the top 50 of the RPI to have a shot at an at-large bid. I think UE would be in the conversation if it made it to Saturday’s MVC tournament championship game, which would require winning four straight games Wednesday through Friday. Of course, the only way to ensure an NCAA berth is to grab the automatic bid by winning the conference tournament.

Freeland up to No. 4 on Baseball America mock draft

University of Evansville left-hander Kyle Freeland keeps inching up the mock draft boards.

Baseball America’s Mock Draft 2.0, which was released Friday, has the 6-foot-3 junior from Denver going to the Chicago Cubs with the No. 4 overall pick.

Baseball America’s mock draft also includes a brief analysis section to go along with each pick. A portion of Freeland’s description reads: “The Cubs still prefer a college pitcher, and Evansville’s Kyle Freeland has been burning up boards with his stellar season. The tall lefty is in play this high and won’t get out of the first 10 picks if he doesn’t falter down the stretch.”

In his final regular-season start Thursday, Freeland allowed two hits in seven shutout innings as the Aces beat Missouri State 1-0 and clinched a share of their second Missouri Valley Conference championship. He improved his record to 10-1 and his ERA to 1.64, and has 122 strikeouts compared to nine walks this season.

Freeland was listed as the No. 9 prospect by Baseball America at about the midway point of the season, then moved to No. 7 on an early mock draft, and was listed as the No. 5 draft prospect on Wednesday.

There isn’t much higher for Freeland to go, but whatever the case, it’s safe to predict a multi-million dollar signing bonus June 5.

Aces post solid APR scores

The NCAA released the multi-year Academic Progress Rates (APR) for member institutions on Wednesday, and the University of Evansville is in good standing. UE’s women’s golf, women’s cross country and women’s tennis programs received perfect scores of 1,000 in the APR — a metric that calculates academic progress of each Division I scholarship athlete and counts eligibility, retention and graduation.

Teams must maintain a four-year APR of 930 (or 940 over the previous two years) to remain eligible for postseason competition. The UE men’s soccer team had the lowest APR in the athletic department at 969.

The 930 benchmark is equivalent to a roughly 50 percent graduation rate. In all, 36 Division I teams were ruled ineligible for postseason play in 2014-15, including nine football teams and eight men’s basketball teams. To search the NCAA’s APR database, go here.

Below is each UE sport and its multi-year APR, which is based on the rates from the 2009-10, 2010-11, 2011-12 and 2012-13 academic years.

Women’s tennis 1,000, women’s golf 1,000, women’s cross country 1,000, baseball 976, men’s basketball 979, men’s cross country 982, men’s golf 972, men’s soccer 969, men’s swimming 996, softball 988, women’s basketball 990, women’s soccer 975, women’s swimming 997, women’s volleyball 989.