UE part of loaded 2015 Wooden Legacy field

The University of Evansville men’s basketball team will compete in a major Thanksgiving week tournament in 2015.

Bloggingthebracket.com reported that the Aces will play in the Wooden Legacy, which features powerhouse programs Michigan State and Arizona. The Wooden Legacy will be played Nov. 26 and 27 in Fullerton, California, and Nov. 29 in Anaheim, California.

The entire 2015 tournament field — which was also reported on the San Jose State athletics website as part of a two-year ticket package — is listed below.

The Wooden Legacy Campus sites: TBA
Fullerton, CA: Nov. 26 and 27
Anaheim, CA: Nov. 29
Teams (8) Quarterfinalists
Arizona Wildcats (Pac-12)
Boise State Broncos (MW)
Boston College Eagles (ACC)
Evansville Aces (MVC)
Michigan State Spartans (Big Ten)
Providence Friars (Big East)
Santa Clara Broncos (WCC)
UC Irvine Anteaters (Big West)

In addition to providing the Aces with some strong nonconference matchups, the 2015 Wooden Legacy will give UE’s program television exposure via its ESPN broadcasts. All of the Wooden Legacy games this year will air on ESPN2, ESPNU or ESPN3.

Balentine, Mockevicius among leaders in economist’s statistical projections

University of Evansville juniors D.J. Balentine and Egidijus Mockevicius will be among college basketball’s top six in points and rebounds, respectively, this season, according to statistical projections from Sports Illustrated.

This SI.com article explains that economist Dan Hanner developed a model to project advanced statistics for every Division I player — and ultimately team records — by simulating the season 10,000 times, “accounting for fluctuations in individual performance and health.” Numerous other factors are cited in the article, and while projections are … well, projections, it still is interesting to see the results this scientific approach yielded.

Hanner’s model places Balentine fifth in the country in scoring at 19.4 points per game and Mockevicius sixth in rebounding at 8.7 boards per game.

That would actually be a decrease in scoring for Balentine from 22.8 points per game as a sophomore, but it wouldn’t be surprising if Balentine’s scoring dipped slightly this season. The Aces could elect to play more through Mockevicius in the post, and and newcomers Taylor Stafford and Mislav Brzoja — both capable outside scorers — could cut slightly into Balentine’s shot attempts.

Mockevicius led the Missouri Valley Conference at 8.3 rebounds per game last season, so SI’s projections see him making a slight improvement in that category.

Speaking of the MVC, Northern Iowa forward Seth Tuttle rated highly in Hanner’s model. Tuttle is projected as the nation’s No. 34 scorer (16.3 ppg), No. 13 rebounder (8.4 rpg) and No. 5 “efficient, high-usage scorer.”

Indianapolis guard reportedly to take official visit to UE

In his recruiting notes published Tuesday night, the Indianapolis Star’s Kyle Neddenriep reported that Howe High School point guard Harris Brown will take an official visit to the University of Evansville this weekend.

The 5-foot-11 Brown previously committed to fellow Missouri Valley Conference member Loyola (Ill.) but later decommitted. According to his profile on verbalcommits.com, Brown also holds scholarship offers from Northern Illinois and New Orleans. He was an Indiana Junior All-Star last year.

This video, which is more than a year old, shows that Brown has good explosiveness and a solid shooting stroke.

The following highlights are more recent but less comprehensive (it appears only a couple of games were filmed for this video).

Aces offer Class of 2016 shooting guard

Christian Willis, a 6-foot-2 junior shooting guard from Christian Brothers College High School in St. Louis, received a scholarship offer Friday from the University of Evansville men’s basketball program. Willis was on campus to take in the Aces’ first official practice for the 2014-15 season.

The Class of 2016 prospect announced the scholarship offer on Twitter Friday evening.

Willis averaged 10.8 points per game during his sophomore season. He also holds offers from Eastern Illinois, Arkansas State and San Jose State, according to his online recruiting profile at verbalcommits.com.

Quotes and notes on D.J. Balentine

D.J. Balentine

D.J. Balentine

While compiling a 1,500-word feature on University of Evansville junior shooting guard D.J. Balentine this week, I gathered plenty of material. Some of it didn’t make the final story, but I thought I’d share the remaining tidbits here.

Check our sports website Saturday evening for my full story, or grab a copy of Sunday’s newspaper.

Some extra notes and quotes regarding Balentine, who led the Missouri Valley Conference with 22.8 points per game last season:

Balentine finished his prep career as the No. 3 career scorer at Kokomo High School. Both the players ahead of him, Jimmy Rayl and Jim Ligon, went on to professional careers in the American Basketball Association.

Balentine typically maintains a calm demeanor on the court. And despite idolizing noted trash talkers Michael Jordan and Reggie Miller growing up, Balentine said he rarely gets into battles of words.

“If a player wants to get into it with me, sometimes I’ll talk trash a little, and my mom, she hates it,” he said. “My family, my mom and dad and my grandma and grandpa, they always told me to let my game speak. I think it can be even more ridiculous when a player’s going nuts out there, to just keep it going. I think that’s more impressive than going nuts over one play.”

Balentine said his favorite active NBA player, and one he tries to emulate, is Golden State Warriors sharpshooter Stephen Curry.

“I like Steph Curry a lot. I like how he plays a lot. He can handle the ball really well, shoot the 3, obviously, the best in the league. He’s a terrific scorer and passer, can get to the bucket. I like how he plays (and) we’re kind of the same height.”

UE head coach Marty Simmons on Balentine’s dramatic improvement his sophomore season: “Like anything else in life, once you get through it once you certainly have more confidence and understanding in terms of how to handle certain situations that arise the second time through.”

Aces junior Adam Wing on Balentine’s personality: “He’s always cracking jokes and playing pranks; he’s a fun guy to be around. But on the court, it’s the complete opposite. On the court, in the games, it’s serious. It’s focusing on the task at hand, and that’s winning. He doesn’t care how that happens as long as we’re winning the game.”

Men’s basketball to begin practice Oct. 10

Marty Simmons

Marty Simmons

The University of Evansville men’s basketball team will hold its first official practice Oct. 10, six days after the Aces are allowed to start by the NCAA.

Like all college coaches entering the 2013-14 season, UE’s Marty Simmons was in unfamiliar territory with a new rule that allowed programs to begin practicing 42 days before their first regular-season game. College hoops seasons previously began on Oct. 15, and coaches were forced to cram in as much material as possible before the opening game.

Under the current rule, teams are allowed 30 practice days with 12 days off, and coaches decide when and how they’ll utilize those preparation days.

Simmons acknowledged the UE coaching staff didn’t handle its new flexibility properly last season. The Aces started as soon as they could, which Simmons said forced them to stagger practices to a degree that hampered the continuity of the workouts.

Beginning a few days later should resolve that issue, and I think it’s a good decision by the UE staff. Sometimes rule changes require a little trial-and-error.

The Aces open the regular season at home Nov. 15 against Division III Earlham.

Breaking down the Gulf Coast Showcase

The Gulf Coast Showcase released the pairings Tuesday for its men’s basketball tournament, which will run Nov. 24-26 at Germain Arena in Estero, Florida. Evansville will lock up with Fresno State in the opening round, with the victor to face the East Carolina-Green Bay winner.

Here is a closer look at each of the matchups, top players for each team, etc.

Game 1: Green Bay vs. East Carolina

— Green Bay finished 24-7 last season and posted a 14-2 record in the Horizon League in winning the conference’s regular-season title. The Phoenix lost to Belmont in the first round of the NIT.

Final 2013-14 RPI: 69

Top player: There may not be a better player in the Gulf Coast Showcase than Green Bay senior Keifer Sykes. The 6-foot guard averaged 20.3 points, 4.9 assists and 4.4 rebounds last season. Sykes was named the Horizon League Player of the Year and an honorable mention Associated Press All-American. And he brings his best against top competition; he lit up Wisconsin for a career-high 32 points in a 69-66 loss last season, and posted 21 points and 10 assists as the Phoenix knocked off Virginia, which earned a No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament.

Oh, and he can do this:

If you’d like to read up more on Sykes, who the Aces could see in their second game of the tournament, ESPN’s C.L. Brown recently wrote a blog post about him.

— East Carolina finished 17-17 overall, 5-11 in Conference USA and lost to Wright State in the first round of the CIT.

Final 2013-14 RPI: 223

Top players: Caleb White, a 6-7 sophomore guard, averaged 12.4 points as a freshman. Senior sharpshooter Paris Roberts-Campbell has started 52 consecutive games, posted 11.9 points per game last season and racked up 53 steals (the sixth-highest single-season total in ECU history). More than 56 percent of Roberts-Campbell’s made field goals in his career have come from 3-point range.

Game 2: Fresno State vs. Evansville

— Fresno State finished 21-18 and 9-9 in the Mountain West last season. The Bulldogs lost to Siena in the CBI’s best-of-three championship series.

Final 2013-14 RPI: 106

Top players: The Bulldogs return four starters and five of their top seven scorers, led by junior guards Marvelle Harris (14.3 points per game) and Cezar Guerrero (13.1 ppg) and 6-foot-6 sophomore guard/forward Paul Watson (10.0 ppg). Last season’s leading scorer, Tyler Johnson (15.9 ppg), is on the roster of the Miami Heat.

— Evansville finished 14-19 and 6-12 in the Missouri Valley Conference. The Aces lost to conference champion Wichita State in the second round of the MVC tournament.

Final 2013-14 RPI: 210

Top players: The Aces return 96 percent of their scoring output from last season, but their two clear stars are junior guard D.J. Balentine and junior post Egidijus Mockevicius. Balentine led the MVC in scoring at 22.8 points per game, connecting on 40 percent of his 3-point attempts. Mockevicius was the team’s second-leading scorer (10.5 ppg) and led the league in rebounding (8.3 rpg).

Game 3: Florida Gulf Coast at Marist

— Florida Gulf Coast finished 22-13 last year and 14-4 in the Atlantic Sun, losing to Florida State in the first round of the NIT.

Final 2013-14 RPI: 148

Top players: Bernard Thompson, a 6-foot-3 guard, led FGCU in scoring last season at 15.1 points per game, but the team’s most flashy player — and most recognizable remnant of the 2013 run to the Sweet 16 that inspired the nickname ‘Dunk City’ — is his backcourt mate Brett Comer. Comer scored 13.7 points per game last season and averaged 5.3 assists.

Comer’s court vision was apparent on this play, which may be the signature play of Dunk City’s run two seasons ago. The good part starts at about the 20-second mark.

— Marist finished 12-19 and 9-11 in the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference, bowing out in the first round of the MAAC tourney.

Final 2013-14 RPI: 245

Top players: The Red Foxes return their top two scorers from last season in 6-5 wing Chavaughn Lewis (17.5 ppg) and 6-2 guard Khallid Hart (14.7 ppg).

Game 4: San Francisco at Hawaii

— San Francisco went 21-12 and 13-5 in the West Coast Conference. The Dons lost to LSU in their opening game of the NIT.

Final 2013-14 RPI: 80

Top players: Of the Dons’ five double-figure scorers last season, only 6-7 forward Kruize Pinkins (12.2 ppg, 6.5 rpg) and 6-9 forward Mark Tollefsen (10.5 ppg) return.

— Hawaii finished 20-11 and 9-7 in the Big West. The Warriors lost in to Cal State-Northridge in the conference tournament.

Final 2013-14 RPI: 161

Top players: Isaac Fotu, a 6-8 junior forward, was named to the all-Big West first team last season. He was second on the team in scoring (14.9) and rebounding (6.1), and led the team with 58 percent shooting from the field. The Warriors also return a little scoring punch in the backcourt with 6-2 senior Garrett Nevels (13.1 ppg).

Former UE guard Ned Cox awaiting overseas offers

Ned Cox

Ned Cox

After a successful professional basketball debut, Ned Cox is playing the waiting game.

The former University of Evansville guard averaged 17.3 points, 2.5 rebounds and 2.0 assists in 2013-14 for a team in the Brazilian Premiere League.

This summer, Cox is staying in shape as his agent shops his talents around the globe. Cox said he’d like to pursue opportunities in Germany, Greece, Turkey or Hungary, but is waiting on the offers to come in.

The 6-foot-1 Cox — who scored 10.8 points per game for the Aces during the 2012-13 season — believes his performance in Brazil proved his worth to other pro teams.

“As far as basketball-wise, I had to be a playmaker for my team and step up a little bit more than I had to at UE,” the San Antonio native said. “It helped me grow up as a person and a basketball player.”

Cox said he enjoyed getting outside of the U.S. and traveling to different beaches and cities in Brazil. But he also hopes his hard work eventually lands him back in the States.

“Hopefully I keep continuing to improve myself and continuing to have good seasons,” Cox said. “Hopefully I get a shot to get in an NBA Summer League and give myself a shot at going that route.”

 

 

Shy Ely signs with top-tier French club

Former University of Evansville guard Shy Ely has signed a contract with Le Mans Sarthe, a first-tier professional club in France.

In case you want to brush up on your French, or see a photo of Ely in his Evansville heyday, here is a tweet with a French press release announcing the deal:

Ely averaged more than 20 points last season for a team in Heidelberg, Germany, that competed in Germany’s second division. The 6-foot-4 Ely has also played in the NBA Development League and for a team in the top Swiss League.

Ely averaged 18.9 points and 5.8 rebounds as a senior for the Aces in the 2008-09 season.

UE showing interest in Lithuanian power forward, but no scholarship offer

Dainius Chatkevicius — who was referred to as “an Evansville commit” earlier this month by ESPN recruiting analyst Reggie Rankin — has not committed to the University of Evansville men’s basketball program. In fact, the Aces haven’t even offered the class of 2015 prospect a scholarship, a representative of the athletic department said Tuesday.

The Aces are continuing to track the 6-foot-9, 245-pound power forward, but the lone scholarship expected to become available after this season is unfilled.

(Full disclosure: I used Rankin’s tweet for this blog post, in which I introduced the big man to readers, pointed out there was no other link between Chatkevicius and Evansville and tried to dig up some tidbits about him.)

Chatkevicius averaged eight points and nine rebounds last season for West Oaks Academy, a private school in Orlando, Florida, that attracts loads of Division I prospects.

West Oaks’ 2014 graduating class contained men’s basketball players headed to Louisville, New Mexico State, Texas A & M, UC Irvine and South Alabama, coach Shaun Wiseman said.

Chatkevicius’ role on that stacked squad was to rebound and hold down the middle of the lane on defense.

“He’s tough, he’s rugged, he’s physical,” Wiseman said. “He’s not afraid to put his body on people.”

Chatkevicius became interested in UE when a Lithuanian coach recommended the school to him. He said he hasn’t visited campus, but hopes to sometime this season.

“I watched a few (Evansville) games online last year and that’s it,” said Chatkevicius, who came to the U.S. last September and has been in communication with Evansville assistant Geoff Alexander.

Chatkevicius said he hopes to improve his shooting, footwork and agility in his final prep season. Wiseman expects the big man to accept a larger offensive role.

“He’s gonna do most of his work 10 feet and in but if he needs to step out, he can take a jump shot every now and then,” Wiseman said. “He can pick and pop and do some stuff as he keeps developing.”

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.