On a personal note…

When I took the job as UE beat writer about a year ago, it was my goal to cover the Aces in a way they’d never been before.

Now you — fans — have a blog and dedicated Twitter account for news as it happens, not just in the morning paper.

From everything I’ve heard, it will stay that way after I move on.

Today is officially my last at the Courier & Press. I’ve accepted a job at the Courier-Journal in Louisville — it’s home — as a sports digital producer (basically, their website guy).

I tell you that with a bit of both sadness and excitement, because covering a Division I athletic department out of school was about all I could ever ask for. And I hope you saw that eagerness through my coverage.

I won’t run down a laundry list of thank yous here — I told many in person at UE over the past two weeks anyway — but what I will say is, I covered plain good people on this job. It’s an athletic department that doesn’t have all the resources, though with a little extra ingenuity and plenty of man hours, UE competes with staffs double and triple its size.

They Aces do so because of a small, private university’s unique position as the city’s No. 1 team. That truly is a special thing, even if the fan base isn’t what it was during the College Division days.

I hope I served you all well.

Keep this blog bookmarked, and continue following on Twitter. Both will be passed on to the next UE beat writer.

As for me, if you ever need to get in contact, I’ll still have my personal Twitter account (@JonathanLintner) and email address (jlintner@gmail.com).

I try to say this every time someone approaches me at a game or event, but really: Thank you for reading.

-Jonathan Lintner

UE News and Notes for June 21, 2013

—Business should pick up again for Missouri Valley Conference men’s basketball coverage Monday when the league hosts its summer teleconference (streamed at Valley Live). Each coach is scheduled to take questions for eight minutes, with UE’s Marty Simmons set for 10:18 a.m. It was in this news conference last year that Simmons revealed the Aces’ exempt tournament plans — then the Coaches vs. Cancer Classic. Maybe this year there will come a hint for just why so many Ohio teams made the non-conference schedule.

—Lance Wilkerson, UE’s play-by-play man and athletic director of development, tweeted this from inside the Aces’ men’s basketball practice yesterday:

—Courier & Press sports editor Randy Beard has more on FahKara Malone’s hiring to the UE women’s basketball staff in today’s paper. Malone, for two years the Aces’ director of operations, can now participate in basketball activities with the team as opposed to just administrative tasks. “Basically, I was a really good cheerleader the last two seasons,” Malone said.

—UE’s all-time leading men’s basketball scorer, Colt Ryan, has an NBA opt-out clause with his Belgian professional team and is making the most of it. Ryan worked out for the Utah Jazz on Tuesday and will do the same with the Phoenix Suns today. Those are the only two teams he’s physically visited so far, but Ryan said Thursday others have expressed interest leading into the June 27 NBA Draft and July 12-22 NBA Summer League in Las Vegas.

—It could merely be a coincidence, but Ryan’s workout with the Jazz coincided with this week’s announcement that another UE legend, Jerry Sloan, is back with his former team serving as a consultant. “Sloan will provide guidance to (coach Ty) Corbin as well as serve as an extra set of eyes as the team evaluates potential players,” according to the Associated Press’ story. In 23 full seasons coaching the Jazz, Sloan led the franchise to 19 playoff appearances.

—If his first two outings are any indication, Kyle Lloyd should easily cement himself a spot in affiliated baseball. The former UE pitcher is 1-0 with a 1.80 earned run average after a pair of appearances for the Eugene Emeralds, the San Diego Padres’ Class A short-season club in Oregon. Lloyd’s come out of the bullpen in two- and three-inning increments, allowing just two hits so far.

—Indiana State pitcher Sean Manaea’s deal with the Kansas City Royals, which includes a $3.55 million bonus, came in at $2 million more than the supplemental first-round slot value assigned to his pick. Simply put, it pays to have Scott Boras as an agent. Rick Semmler, a Terre Haute TV guy, reported the deal as the second largest outside of the first round ever.

—As of July 1, UE women’s tennis player Kelsey Costales will become the first Aces student-athlete to represent the Missouri Valley Conference nationally on the NCAA’s Student-Athlete Advisory Committee. Costales’ position lasts for two years, and she’ll also maintain her spot as UE’s main female representative. Basketball player David Howard is the men’s rep.

Ryan working out for NBA teams

Former UE star Colt Ryan will try to make an NBA roster this summer before starting his professional career in Belgium.

Former UE star Colt Ryan will try to make an NBA roster this summer before starting his professional career in Belgium.

As it turns out, Colt Ryan’s deal signed with a Belgian professional basketball team isn’t completely sealed.

UE’s all-time leading scorer has an NBA opt-out clause in the contract he inked in late May with Brussels Basketball of the Ethias League.

“If any team signs me or if I decide to go to an NBA team by a certain date, I can take that,” said Ryan, who worked out for the Utah Jazz on Tuesday and today will show his skills for the Phoenix Suns.

Ryan, a 6-foot-5 forward, doesn’t expect to hear his name during the June 27 NBA Draft. He actually considers himself “on the outside looking in” as far as securing an NBA Summer League roster spot.

The two-time all-Missouri Valley Conference first teamer is trying his luck anyway.

“It would take a good workout here or there for things to pull through,” Ryan said. “There definitely is a chance to make a summer league roster. I’m just working out with as many teams as I can.”

The Salt Lake Tribune reported that Ryan worked out Tuesday alongside players such as Syracuse’s Michael Carter-Williams and Kentucky’s Archie Goodwin. Drills typically consist of basic combine tasks — vertical leap, bench press and agility testing — along with basketball skills tasks.

“It all varies from team to team because they all have their own way of doing things with their style of play and they tailor it to that,” Ryan said.

The Batesville, Ind., native averaged 20.1 points and 4 assists per game last season as a senior while leading UE to a 21-15 record. Ryan previously showed off in front of scouts at the Portsmouth Invitational Tournament in April leading up to signing his deal with Brussels Basketball.

Brussels will play next season in the 10-team Ethias League, Belgium’s top-level basketball association. The club’s season begins Oct. 6.

Before signing, “I didn’t really know them,” Ryan said. “My agent just contacted me and said there was a deal that had been put on the table. The coach really liked me. He had been following me and said I was the person they needed.

“They gave me four or five days to decide. If I didn’t sign with them the deal would get canceled. It was a really good decision for me with a good starting salary, so I had to take the opportunity.”

The next month or so will determine whether Ryan keeps it.

After the NBA Draft, the 22-team NBA Summer League runs from July 12-22 in Las Vegas. Even if a summer spot doesn’t land Ryan on an NBA roster, exposure from the NBA TV-broadcast league could boost his standing among overseas scouts from more prestigious clubs.

Either way, Ryan will become the fourth former UE player to join a professional roster in the past year, joining Denver Holmes and Shy Ely (Switzerland) as well as Kenny Harris (Israel).

UE News and Notes for June 20, 2013

—I’m back from a few days on vacation, so here goes…

—Marty Simmons said Jordan Nelson’s decision to transfer surprised the UE coach. Nelson didn’t respond to a request to comment, so we’ll likely never really know why he left at this point of the year — and after Simmons repeatedly said he expected everyone back who had eligibility. It leaves a hole as far as experience goes, but with four incoming guards (among them a pair of sharpshooters) the departure shouldn’t much affect the rotation.

—Nelson’s transfer does, however, create an opportunity for UE coaches to recruit the class of 2014 again now that a scholarship will be open in the class. Originally, that wasn’t going to be the case as there will be no seniors on this season’s team. The Aces’ staff is also already showing interest to a number of 2015 prospects now that those recruits can receive unlimited texts and phone calls from college coaches. You can search the Rivals.com database for that growing list of players.

—The one incoming freshman who hasn’t yet made it to campus, combo guard Christian Benzon, has a good reason for that. He won the U20 Nordic Championship this week as part of Denmark’s national team.

—A year after he flipped an all-terrain vehicle and broke his jaw, Rokas Cesnulevicius feels stronger. I featured the UE junior center, who played sparingly last season after the accident, in a story over the weekend. Cesnulevicius wants to compete for playing time at power forward now that fellow Lithuanian native Egidijus Mockevicius has the five spot locked up.

—UE signee Blake Simmons contributed as a reserve in a pair of Indiana All-Stars victories last weekend over Kentucky, while women’s incoming freshman guard Dakota Weatherford moved into a starting point guard role while committing just one turnover in two games.

—UE women’s basketball coach Oties Epps promoted director of operations FahKara Malone to an assistant coaching role, the athletic department announced Wednesday. Malone, a former Memorial High School and Purdue standout, fills the spot previously held by coach Meredith Baugher, who took a job recently in Chicago. “She has a strong reputation in the state from her playing days and more importantly, she is a winner that has succeeded at a high level,” Epps said.

—Former UE star and Utah Jazz coach Jerry Sloan came out of retirement to rejoin the NBA organization this week as a senior basketball adviser. Sloan will, according to USA Today, “work with players in the offseason and handle regional scouting, as well as clinics.” Sloan retired from his original position with the Jazz during the 2010 season. He posted a 1,221-803 career mark as an NBA head coach.

—More UE influence in the league: As many as five NBA teams will wear jerseys with sleeves next season, according to an ESPN.com report. This story from Darren Rovell didn’t give the Aces the same props adidas’ original sleeves announcement did, but UE fans will always be able to say they wore them first.

Updates: Indiana All-Stars vs. Kentucky

The Indiana All-Stars, comprised of UE signee Blake Simmons on the boys’ side and Dakota Weatherford for the girls’ team, play as part of a doubleheader tonight against their Kentucky counterparts at Freedom Hall in Louisville.

I’ll be at both games — the girls play at 4:30 p.m. and the boys will follow around 6:30 p.m. — updating the future Aces’ results. Refresh periodically or follow on Twitter (@ECP_Lintner).

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How Blake became an Ace

Indiana All-Star Blake Simmons, left, drives on a likely future All-Star in Bosse's JaQuan Lyle last season. Photo by Daniel Patmore/C&P

Indiana All-Star Blake Simmons, left, drives on a likely future All-Star in Bosse’s JaQuan Lyle last season. Photo by Daniel Patmore/C&P

Blake Simmons always spent time around his father’s UE men’s basketball program, but Marty Simmons seemingly made it a point never to directly recruit his son.

Assistant coaches spoke to Blake, then attending Castle High School, after workouts and shootarounds. They developed a relationship with the sharpshooting forward as coaches do with other recruits. And they maintained it, enough that Blake knew he wanted to play for the Aces.

He just needed a scholarship offer first.

“We were riding to one of my AAU tournaments, and my dad kind of laid it out for me, saying, ‘We’re going to offer you a scholarship’ and all that,” Blake said. “He explained that it’s going to be tough for us because of the situation we’re in — father and son. He said, ‘I’m going to be on you harder than others,’ and I understood that because after talking to Doug (McDermott at Creighton), I knew about it.”

That conversation came in May of 2012. Blake committed to UE on the spot, becoming the first player in what’s ended up a five-player incoming recruiting class this year.

“It was emotional, you know?” Marty said. “For all of us, because certainly my wife has done a terrific job of raising Blake and being a part of any success he’s had. Really, our entire family has given him great support throughout his career. When he did actually make the decision, it was emotional — all good feelings. It was a special day. I think we’re all really excited about the opportunity.”

The decision was easy much because of a run-in the Simmons’ father-son combo had with coach Greg McDermott and player Doug McDermott of Creighton at the Final Four in New Orleans.

Doug recently announced, following a Missouri Valley Conference Player of the Year and All-American season, that he’ll return to play his senior season with the Bluejays.

“We ran into them there and they gave us some advice — kind of what they do — and talking to Doug was really neat hearing his side of the story,” Blake said. “Really, they just said that when you’re in between the lines and on the court, it’s all business. You can’t take that home with you. Once you’re at home, you’ve got to be father and son. You’ve got to leave all the coach and player on the court. They can’t overlap.”

So far, that’s been the case.

Blake is already on campus this summer, where he calls Marty “Coach” instead of “Dad.”

“He told me I really deserved (the scholarship), which meant a lot to me,” Blake said. “A lot of people might say, ‘Oh, he’s just the coach’s son.’ But hearing that I deserved it from him really meant a lot.”

This week, Blake is playing with the prestigious Indiana All-Stars. The team played twice against the Indiana Junior All-Stars this week and has games Friday against Kentucky at Freedom Hall and Saturday at Bankers Life Fieldhouse.

UE News and Notes for June 13, 2013

—UE signee Blake Simmons, out of Castle High School, scored seven points and grabbed five rebounds Wednesday in 16 minutes played for the Indiana Senior All-Stars as part of a 133-111 win over the Juniors before 2,125 fans at Tipton High School. Simmons also had a 3-pointer at the buzzer called off that would have joined him with six others in double figures. In the girls’ game, Dakota Weatherford dished out six assists in a winning effort, as the Seniors bested the Juniors by a 95-69 score in their final tuneup before playing the Kentucky All-Stars this weekend.

—Former UE pitcher Kyle Lloyd’s signing goes as another feather in coach Wes Carroll’s cap. He’s developed some consistency with players going in the draft — one in each of the last three years and seven in five seasons overall — proving that Aces coaches know how to develop talent.

—UE and Northern Illinois expressing “strong interest” in class of 2015 swingman Nate Navigato, according to the Chicago-area player’s AAU team, and Illinois-Chicago offered Navigato his first scholarship at the Flames’ camp this week. Navigato, at 6-foot-6, attends Geneva High School.

—Look for Missouri Valley Conference men’s basketball buzz to start picking up as of June 24. That Monday, the league will host a coaches teleconference that will be streamed on Valley Live. Times are 9:30 a.m.-11 a.m.

—Often, the year before hosting a Final Four, NCAA tournament regional sites are played at domed stadiums as a test run. That will no longer be required by the NCAA, which instead wants to keep its postseason out of domes leading up to the national semifinals. This shouldn’t affect the MVC’s 2014 host site, the made-for-hoops Scottrade Center.

—Derrick Docket, the MVC’s social media guru, tweeted that some details for the league’s Mascot Madness competition will be released today. Though small in number, UE’s fan base made some noise in last year’s Mascot Madness before Ace Purple was knocked out late.

—UE women’s basketball coach Oties Epps tweeted Wednesday night, “So proud of our team. They get it…” along with a photo of the Aces’ grade-point average. It’s a combined 3.513 — not too shabby.

Lloyd signs deal with Padres

Kyle Lloyd

Kyle Lloyd

Former UE pitcher Kyle Lloyd confirmed via text message he’s signed with the San Diego Padres organization after it selected him in the 29th round of last weekend’s MLB First-Year Player Draft.

Lloyd, who arrived at the Padres’ spring training facility in Arizona on Monday, is already off today to report to the club’s short-season A-ball club in Eugene. Ore.

The Eugene Emeralds then start their season Friday night.

Lloyd, a right-handed California native, went 7-4 with a 2.59 earned run average last season as a senior at UE. He started every Saturday as the Aces’ No. 2 pitcher before coach Wes Carroll sent him to the mound in game one of the Missouri Valley Conference tournament.

Lloyd didn’t disappoint in perhaps his most gutsy performance of the season, allowing two runs — one earned — on four hits through 8 2/3 innings of a walk-off loss to Missouri State.

The 6-foot-4, 210-pound hurler touches 92 miles per hour with his fastball and relies on a split-changeup to strike batters out. He fanned 99 in all last year, the fourth-most in a single season by a UE pitcher and second in the MVC behind ninth-round pick Nick Petree out of Missouri State.

Lloyd is the only former Aces player in the minors other than Eric Stamets, a shortstop selected in the sixth round last year by the Los Angeles Angels currently at the High-A level.

UE News and Notes for June 12, 2013

—It appears Chad Harmon, a former Illinois-Springfield assistant coach, will re-join UE’s men’s basketball staff this season in some capacity. Harmon’s Twitter account (@AceInTheHole09) suggests as much. I’ve been told he’s currently working at UE in an unofficial capacity, and the hire as a graduate assistant will be announced later. Harmon was a former student manager and student assistant for coach Marty Simmons before going to work with Ben Wierzba, another former Aces staffer, at Illinois-Springfield.

—Still soaking in his Under Armour AD of the Year award, UE athletic director John Stanley is in Orlando, Fla., this week to pick up the hardware. He took some time anyway to discuss the second day in a row of good news for the Aces when the NCAA released Academic Progress Rates for 2011-2012. They correlated with an academic year that saw UE’s student-athletes post the highest combined grade-point average in the Missouri Valley Conference.

—The senior Indiana All-Stars, including UE signees Blake Simmons and Dakota Weatherford, play their junior counterparts again tonight at Tipton High School in central Indiana. The players’ tour continues Friday against the Kentucky All-Stars at Louisville’s Freedom Hall before the final game Saturday at Bankers Life Fieldhouse in Indianapolis. Given the media exposure provided by the Indiana-Kentucky rivalry, this weekend’s games should be easy to follow on Twitter.

—UE’s men’s basketball non-conference schedule is starting to take some serious shape. It won’t be finalized until the Aces’ staff locks down an exempt tournament location, but a report published yesterday says UE will play at Ohio. That’s to go along with games at Xaver, at Miami University, at Indiana and against Butler at the Ford Center. Outside of Miami, every team on that list has recently played in an NCAA Sweet 16.

—The Wichita State baseball coaching search took an interesting turn this week when multiple outlets reported Dallas Baptist coach Dan Heefner as a candidate. Heefner was reportedly on campus to discuss the opening left by recently fired coach Gene Stephenson, though the Shockers’ facility and program should be plenty familiar by now. As of July 1, Dallas Baptist is set to become an MVC baseball-only member.

Most of UE’s APR numbers at an all-time high

ncaalogoNine of UE’s 14 athletic programs posted their highest academic progress rates ever in figures released by the NCAA on Tuesday.

Those teams — men’s basketball, baseball, softball, women’s cross country, women’s golf, women’s tennis, volleyball and both swim teams — reached new highs during the 2011-2012 school year.

Women’s golf, women’s tennis, women’s cross country and volleyball posted perfect scores of 1,000. Those programs were also noted last week through the NCAA’s APR Public Recognition Award for finishing in the top 10 percent of Division I in their respective sport.

APR, “a term-by-term measure of eligibility and retention for Division I student-athletes that was developed as an early indicator of eventual graduation rates,” according to the NCAA, is scored by rolling four-year periods.

A perfect APR (or graduation rate) is represented by 1,000, while a 900 currently marks the threshold for which the NCAA can impose sanctions on athletic programs. But for the 2014-2015 year, that minimum rises to 940 – a new ceiling that will place a number of programs on the edge.

None of them will likely be from UE, however.

Perhaps most notable among the Aces’ athletic programs is the men’s basketball team. Since the NCAA instituted the APR in 2004, the Aces’ rate has grown every year — from 878 then to 965 now.

Higher APRs this year coincide with UE’s all-academic award from the Missouri Valley Conference, awarded last fall after Aces student-athletes combined to post the highest grade-point average in the league.

Most of the 18 division teams sanctioned this year by the NCAA come from low-spending schools in leagues such as the Southwestern Athletic Conference. Penalties typically include reduction in scholarships and postseason bans.

Click here to view the NCAA’s APR database.

Report: UE will play at Ohio this season

ohiologoNorth Carolina coach Roy Williams makes a practice of playing “homecoming games” for each of his recruits, which brought Washington native Tyler Zeller and the Tar Heels to Roberts Stadium for a December 2010 game against UE.

It could be just a coincidence, or we’re seeing a bit of the same for the Aces and their two incoming freshmen from Ohio, Duane Gibson and Tyler Ptacek.

A report from the Athens Messenger says UE will play at Ohio, a Mid-American Conference member, next season. It will be the third Aces road game in the state along with bouts against Miami and Xavier.

The Messenger’s report didn’t cite a date or time for the game, and it’s not known if UE will get a return contest at the Ford Center.

Ohio made the Sweet 16 in 2012 under former coach John Groce, now at Illinois, and in Jim Christian’s first season in charge went 24-9, won the MAC’s regular-season title and played in the National Invitation Tournament.

The Bobcats lose each of their top three scorers heading into this year.

Gibson and Ptacek both hail from the Cleveland area, about three and a half hours from Athens, Ohio. They’re the first players recruited out of Ohio to play for Simmons at UE.

UE News and Notes for June 11, 2013

—UE signee Blake Simmons scored 8 points on 4-of-7 shooting, his misses all being from 3-point range, as the senior Indiana All-Stars beat the juniors by a 106-95 score on Monday. Women’s signee Dakota Weatherford went 3 for 7 and scored 9 points, doing most of her work in the second half of the senior girls’ victory over the juniors. Both Simmons and Weatherford will play their Kentucky counterparts Friday at Louisville’s Freedom Hall before Saturday’s showdown in Indianapolis.

According to the University of Southern Indiana’s women’s basketball schedule released Monday, UE will host the Screaming Eagles in an exhibition game at the Ford Center for the second season in a row. The teams will play Nov. 2 at a time to be announced later. Last year, the women tipped off a doubleheader that featured a men’s exhibition against Illinois-Springfield.

—David Weir, a native Scot and UE men’s soccer player from 1988-1991, took his first management job over the weekend at Sheffield United. It’s a former Premiere League club now playing in League One. Weir, 43, interviewed for the manager job at Everton, where he played and coached, before going to Sheffield.

—A culmination of new facilities, better academics and competitive programs at a small school landed UE’s John Stanley with an AD of the Year award from the National Association of Collegiate Directors of Athletics, the organization announced Monday. Stanley earned the recognition officially for the 2011-2012 year — the Ford Center’s first and his first eligible after five years as the Aces’ athletic director.

—In its countdown of the top Indiana All-Stars, the Indianapolis Star recently profiled former Ace Don Buse, the former ABA and NBA defensive standout and member of UE’s 1971 national championship team. Buse, now 62, is already a member of the Indiana Basketball Hall of Fame.

—While Marty Simmons was in Knightstown last Friday for the Hoosier Reunion All-Star classic (Blake Simmons and Jaylon Brown both played in it), the Fort Wayne News-Sentinel caught up with the Aces’ coach and asked an interesting question: Did you have any reservations in asking your son to play for you?

—The UE cross country programs, men’s and women’s, announced eight signees on Monday who coach Don Walters said “will make immediate impacts while giving us a deeper team.” Learn more about the 2013 class here.