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.

UE’s concentration now on 2015 class

UE coach Marty Simmons has a lot on his plate with four seniors leaving. Recruiting the class of 2014 isn't one of them. Photo by Denny Simmons/C&P

UE coach Marty Simmons has a lot on his plate with four seniors leaving. Recruiting the class of 2014 isn’t one of them. Photo by Denny Simmons/C&P

UE coach Marty Simmons enters next season with a full roster, no seniors and no reason to recruit the class of 2014.

“That will be new,” said the men’s basketball coach, who by signing five high school seniors filled his 13-scholarship allotment. “I’m sure we’ll watch some guys play in the next class. Things happen, and that’s just kind of the world we live in.”

UE’s coaching staff will concentrate instead on the class of 2015, which means current rising high school juniors. The Aces are on track to graduate Ryan Sawvell, Jaylon Moore, Jordan Nelson and Rokas Cesnulevicius before the 2015-2016 season, opening up four scholarships.

“Obviously our main focus will be with the following class with the guys who will be graduating in our junior class,” Simmons said. “We’ll try to get a real jump start in building relationships with guys in that class.”

UE’s only reported class of 2015 scholarship offer so far went to Josh Speidel, a forward from Columbus North High School.

Too early to talk redshirts

Tyler Ptacek, a late spring signee and former UNC Wilmington commit, raised some eyebrows when the Padua (Ohio) Christian High School guard said, “I didn’t want to go into Wilmington or any other college not knowing if my coach was going to be there all five years.”

Simmons said Wednesday he hasn’t actually talked with Ptacek yet about redshirting.

“I think I’ve told you my philosophy on that is pretty much that we have to evaluate them first,” the coach said. “You watch them in high school, but now that you’ve got them in your environment there’s a lot that can go into redshirting — depth at a position, if you’ve got a guy who lacks some physical strength, obviously injury — but ultimately from my standpoint, it’s the player’s decision.”

David Howard, a forward, went through that process last year and decided to redshirt in November.

“He was dedicated to all the time and effort outside of regular practice, and he’s made considerable improvements to his body and just I think his overall confidence and knowledge of our system,” Simmons said.

Ryan working out in front of pro scouts

Most outgoing seniors will wait until after the June 27 NBA Draft to sign professional contracts, waiting to see whether there’s a chance to land on an NBA roster or spot in the summer league.

Maybe you can count Colt Ryan among those players.

“Colt’s in town,” Simmons said. “He’s working out here and looks great. You’ll probably have to talk to him, but I think he’s got some workouts set up with some NBA teams. That’s his next step.”

I haven’t been able to reach Ryan for an update but hope to do so today.

Simmons said he hasn’t had much contact with Troy Taylor and Ned Cox, both guys who tweet often about continuing their basketball workouts.

As for the Aces’ other senior last season, Lewis Jones, Simmons said the Memphis native is ready to put his sociology degree to work.

“Lewis is actually looking to relocate in Evansville right now and get in the workforce here in the community,” Simmons said. “I think just community involvement and working with kids — he’s got a real passion for that.”

Schedule still a work in progress

Aces coaches are still working to complete their non-conference schedule. Games at Indiana and Miami (Ohio), as well as one against Butler at the Ford Center are confirmed. UE, like all Missouri Valley Conference members, is required to also play in a regular-season exempt tournament. The Aces are still finalizing that deal, and Simmons declined to comment on specifics at this point.

A conversation with Tyler Ptacek

Tyler Ptacek

Tyler Ptacek

This time last month, Tyler Ptacek was signed with UNC Wilmington but growing uncomfortable with the situation. The Seakhawks experienced turnover on their coaching staff before the 3-point specialist from Padua Christian (Ohio) High School received a release from his letter of intent and a week later verbally committed to UE.

Aces coach Marty Simmons formally announced Ptacek’s signing with UE today. He’s one of five incoming freshmen, and his decision was influenced by another future Ace.

Ptacek on his decision to break his commitment to UNC Wilmington and play for UE: “Me and my dad were talking about de-committing and releasing. And that morning – I don’t know which day it was, but I was at school – I checked my phone and had a bunch of missed calls from coaches. I saw Evansville on there. One of my close buddies, Duane Gibson, who I played AAU with (on the Ohio Basketball Club) and am real close with, is committed there so it interested me to get to know what Evansville is all about. That’s one of the main reasons I wanted to go down there – to play with Duane.”

Why not go to UNC Wilmington? “I kind of felt uncomfortable with the whole situation because the guy who recruited me and was really texting me during the whole process was Jamie Kachmarik – he was my main guy – got fired. There was another guy on my visit…that made me feel uncomfortable. I didn’t want to go into Wilmington or any other college not knowing if my coach was going to be there all five years, because that’s the main reason I was there – or committed there.”

Ptacek visited UE on May 14 and made a quick decision. “I knew there was going to be a stop to the recruiting period, so I just got down there as fast as I could and talked to coach (Carson) Harris,” he said. “I talked to him on the phone one time, and me and my dad got down there on a Tuesday. After the drive home, me and my dad and my grandfather all talked about it because they’re both big keys in helping me decide where to go. We decided that would be the best fit for me.”

Ptacek posted results of a shooting drill Tuesday in which he made 672 of 820 3-pointers“I’ve always been known as a shooter,” he said. “Everyone around my area knows me as a shooter, and I just try to keep that through repetition. Me and my dad have different kind of competitions to see who can get up the most shots in a certain period of time, so that’s what we’re doing before I get to college. I’ve already got up around 3,000 shots in the last three days. Every single day, Monday through Sunday, I’ll be in the gym getting at least 500 shots. It’s all about repetition.”

So if Gibson, the Villa Angela-St. Joseph’s guard, could affect Ptacek’s college decision, how good is Gibson? “I really didn’t know who Duane was,” Ptacek said. “I don’t know if he even played AAU until last year, and everyone kind of overlooked him. Me and my dad both said he’s going to be legit. Once he started playing AAU, he did exactly what we thought. I’d say he’s the top point guard in Ohio, honestly. He’s the most underrated player. I kept saying it to all the coaches at Evansville – they got a steal with him because he’s a true pass-first guy who can score if he needs to. He’s a smart player and always does the right thing. On my AAU team, he was the guy who always found me and got me 90 percent of my shots. That’s why, when we were doing rotations and stuff in AAU, we always played together because it worked so well.”

A conversation with Christian Benzon

A friend of UE commit Christian Benzon tweeted this picture of the guard signing his binding letter of intent to the Aces' coaching staff.

A friend of UE commit Christian Benzon tweeted this picture of the guard signing his binding letter of intent to the Aces’ coaching staff.

Christian Benzon tweeted Tuesday night, “It feels right being a future part of UE!”

The 6-foot-4 guard out of The Rock School in Gainesville, Fla. — a third-year Danish exchange student — then discussed with me how he ended up becoming one of two commitments secured by Aces men’s basketball coaches during the spring signing period.

UE wasn’t among your original list of interested schools. How did the coaching staff find you? “They saw me at an exposure event here (in Florida) a month ago. I was at this event and they called me. I looked up the University of Evansville and found it interesting. I was talking to the coaches, and it sounded really exciting.”

What exactly was exciting about it? “The thing that really caught me was that it’s such a small school, but they still compete at a high level. I thought that was really big. You can go there and get a great education. You can work with the teachers, and at the same time you can compete with big schools like Wichita State and Drake.”

What kind of player are you? “I would say I feel comfortable playing anywhere from one through three on the court.”

Did you get to meet your future teammates on your campus visit over the weekend? “I got to meet most of them. I didn’t meet the freshmen, but I met the other guys. They seem like good guys with great character — a bunch of sweet, good guys.”

How did you end up in the United States? “I was playing at a tournament with my Danish high school over here, and I got to talk to a head coach in Gainesville. Basically, from that point on we worked on me trying to get over here and play.”

How often do you get to go home? “The last time I was home was in July. I get home at least once a year, hopefully.”

How out of the ordinary is that for Danish players? “It’s a commitment, and I know lots of people who are doing it too. If you want to pursue what you really want to do, you’ve got to make some sacrifices. That’s one of them.”

Do you know when you’ll be on campus, and what do you want to work on this summer? “I don’t know yet, but this summer I’m hopefully going to work on my ball handling, my shooting and my physicality, I’d think.”

UE gets another verbal commitment

Tyler Ptacek

Tyler Ptacek

Back on Oct. 29, 2012, UE’s men’s basketball staff landed two verbal commitments in one day from high school seniors.

Aces coaches did it again Tuesday when Tyler Ptacek, a 6-foot-2 guard at Padua Franciscan (Ohio) High School and former UNC Wilmington signee, added his pledge following one earlier in the day from The Rock (Fla.) School guard Christian Benzon.

Ptacek tweeted the news just after 9 p.m. to round out what will be a five-player incoming recruiting class for UE once he and Benzon sign binding letters of intent. Both players made their decision with the NCAA’s signing period, which ends Wednesday, winding down.

Ptacek received a release from UNC Wilmington a week ago and immediately showed interest in UE as well as NCAA tournament Cinderella Florida Gulf Coast. He’s from the Cleveland suburbs not far from UE signee Duane Gibson out of Villa Angela-St. Joseph High School.

Other Aces signees include Fishers High School guard Jaylon Brown and Castle High School forward Blake Simmons, son of coach Marty Simmons.

Known for his shooting abilities, Ptacek averaged 19.2 points per game as a senior at Padua while becoming the school’s career scoring leader. Rivals.com and ESPN both rank him as a two-star prospect.

UE gets commitment from combo guard

Christian Benzon

Christian Benzon

Following an official visit to UE over the weekend, combo guard Christian Benzon committed to Aces coaches this morning and will sign a binding letter of intent upon his return to The Rock School in Gainesville, Fla.

Benzon’s high school coach, Justin Harden, confirmed news that his third-year Danish exchange student will attend UE.

“He’s a really hard worker,” Harden said. “Not a great shooter, but he works extremely hard at it and all the things he needs to do to become a better player. He has a good basketball IQ — has grown a lot since he’s gotten here and become a lot tougher adapting to the American brand of basketball.”

Harden said that at 6-foot-4 and 195 pounds, Benzon is a slasher-type guard who excels in the open floor using techniques such as the Euro step, where a player picks up his dribble and moves in two different directions before taking a shot.

Benzon led The Rock in scoring as a junior but accepted a more defensive-minded role as a senior, averaging about 10 points per game on a team that played a nine-man rotation.

Schools such as South Alabama, Stetson and Florida Gulf Coast offered the two-star prospect by ESPN.com scholarships early in his recruitment. As the NCAA’s signing period wound down (it ends Wednesday), interest waned.

“Not many people were jumping at the opportunity to do it,” Harden said. “He’s been under-recruited, I guess. I don’t know how else to say it. I think he could have gone to a high-major school and had a lot of success. He’ll have immediate success at a place like Evansville. A lot of schools passed up on the opportunity to get him, and he’s going to make them pay for that.”

Benzon has a 3.7 grade-point average, lists his favorite school subject as math and served as team captain at The Rock, a private Christian school, during his junior and senior seasons.

Upon receipt of Benzon’s letter of intent, UE will have a four-player incoming recruiting class. Fishers (Ind.) High School guard Jaylon Brown, Villa Angela-St. Joseph’s (Ohio) guard Duane Gibson and Castle High School forward Blake Simmons, son of coach Marty Simmons, each signed in November.

Benzon in the news:
Dec. 15, 2011: A to Z with Christian Benzon (Gainesville.com)
Sept. 30, 2012: Dodge Florida Shootout report (sourcehoops.com)
Nov. 21, 2012: Sports Xpress recruiting Xclusive (ihigh.com)
May 1, 2013: Florida Independent all-state teams (FloridaHoops.com)

Former UNC Wilmington signee considering UE

A former North Carolina Wilmington signee now lists UE in his top two schools, according to a report published Wednesday by midwest recruiting website 3rd Coast Hoops.

The report says Tyler Ptacek, a senior shooting guard at Padua Franciscan (Ohio) High School, could decide between Aces and 2013 NCAA tournament Cinderella Florida Gulf Coast.

Ptacek received a release from his letter of intent with UNC Wilmington and has since drawn interest from UE’s staff, Miami (Ohio) and that of Florida Gulf Coast, which hired Kansas assistant Joe Dooley after Andy Enfield led the Eagles to the NCAA Sweet 16.

UE hasn’t reportedly offered Ptacek a scholarship, though the Aces’ staff has up to two spots it can fill. Another player under consideration now that junior college guard Ben Vozzola committed to Cal State Northridge over the weekend is Virginia native Travis Hester, who visited UE the same weekend as Vozzola in late April.

Known for his shooting abilities, Ptacek averaged 19.2 points per game as a senior at Padua while becoming the school’s career scoring leader. Rivals.com and ESPN both rank him as a two-star prospect.

Ptacek is from the Cleveland suburbs not far from UE signee Duane Gibson out of Villa Angela-St. Joseph High School. Other Aces signees include Fishers High School guard Jaylon Brown and Castle High School forward Blake Simmons, son of coach Marty Simmons.

The NCAA’s spring signing period lasts just one more week.

Muensterman commits to Indiana

muensterman

Mater Dei junior Maura Muensterman, who had a scholarship offer to UE, committed to Indiana on Sunday. MOLLY BARTELS/C&P

A second major UE women’s basketball recruiting target for the class of 2014 has committed to Indiana — this one a hometown favorite.

Two months after Mount Carmel High School’s Tyra Buss pledged to Indiana, Mater Dei High School junior Tyra Buss did the same on Sunday, according to the @HoosierHills Twitter account.

Muensterman, who averages more than 25 points per game, later confirmed the commitment on her own Twitter page.

It’s been a big month for the 5-foot-11 forward, who returned from an ankle injury last Thursday to score 19 points in a blowout win over Castle High School. Matt Denison of the Louisville Courier-Journal also named Muensterman the top girls’ 2014 prospect in Indiana.

Muensterman and Buss, the top scorer in the state of Illinois, played together on an Indiana Elite AAU team this past summer. Both were offered and recruited heavily by the UE women’s coach staff.

The Evansville native Muensterman has deep ties to UE, where her mother played volleyball and is a member of the school’s athletic hall of fame.

Aces coach Oties Epps seems fine on the recruiting trail anyway. He has four signees for the 2013 class as of now and will add two more when a pair of recent verbal commits ink letters in April. Additionally, Epps has a commitment from Bedford North Lawrence High School junior guard Brittani Rizzi for the 2014 class..

Muensterman’s Mater Dei teammate, sophomore center Tori Schickel, has also been offered by the Aces’ staff.

Simmons, Brown dominate in high school game

Blake Simmons scored 36 points Saturday to lead Castle High School in its loss to Fishers High School, where fellow UE signee Jaylon Brown plays.

Blake Simmons played against fellow UE signee Jaylon Brown Saturday.

Two UE signees combined to score 52 of the 128 points tallied Saturday in a consolation game of North Central High School’s tournament in Indianapolis.

Fishers High School guard Jaylon Brown had 16 points in his team’s 67-61 win, and Castle High School forward Blake Simmons posted a season-high 36 points in the loss.

The game marked the first ever meeting between Castle and Fishers, pitting the two future Aces against one another.

Simmons entered averaging 20.8 points and 9.8 rebounds per game this season. Brown also averages in double figures.

Both Simmons, son of coach Marty Simmons, and Brown signed binding letters of intent during the NCAA’s early period in November.

They make up a 2013 recruiting class that also includes Cleveland point guard Duane Gibson out of Villa Angela-St. Joseph’s High School.

Mount Carmel’s Buss commits to Indiana

Tyra Buss

Until Wednesday, the UE women’s basketball program was in the running for a player who issues press releases about her recruitment and has a family spokesperson do the talking.

Mount Carmel (Ill.) junior Tyra Buss, a 5-foot-7 guard, ended up committing to Indiana via Twitter on his personal account (@tbuss3) and separate promotional account (@TyraBussNews).

A source told IlliniHQ.com on Tuesday that Buss had narrowed her choices down to Big 10 Conference schools Indiana, Illinois and Wisconsin as well as UE. The Aces originally gave Buss her first scholarship offer before a strong summer on the AAU circuit led to attention from major-conference coaches.

“I am so appreciative of the kind words and messages from all of the coaches who have been recruiting me,” Buss said in a statement. “I am also very appreciative of the coaches who took time out of their busy schedules to watch me play not only basketball, but tennis as well.

“Through this process I have met the most amazing people. I have realized that there are not only great coaches out there, but great people with outstanding character as well. That is why it has been so difficult to narrow down the college where I want to continue my basketball career.”

Through three games this season, Buss is averaging a double-double with 31.6 points and 13 steals a contest — including 30-plus points and 10-plus steals in just three quarters of Mount Carmel’s last two blowout wins.

Buss has averaged more than 30 points per game during her high school career and is on pace to break the Illinois all-time points record.

The Aces do have a 2014 commitment from Bedford North Lawrence High School guard Brittani Rizzi and have also offered Mater Dei guard Maura Muensterman.

Coach Oties Epps, whose team is off to a 2-2 start in his second season, recently signed a four-player 2013 class — current high school seniors — that included Brown County post player Sasha Robinson, Pendleton Heights forward Kenzie Gustin, Riverton Parke guard Sara Dickey and Holmen (Wis.) post player Caitlyn Russell

Simmons announces 2013 signing class

UE on Monday announced a three-player 2013 signing class. Current high school seniors were able to sign and submit binding letters of intent starting last Wednesday, and future Aces Jaylon BrownBlake Simmons and Duane Gibson each did that.

With the announcement, coach Marty Simmons can for the first time comment about his recruits.

Simmons on Jaylon Brown, a 5-foot-11 point guard from Fishers (Ind.) High School: “We’ve been recruiting him for a long time and just stayed with it and stayed with it. We were able to get he and his dad down here unofficially, and then his mother came down unofficially. We were able to get up there too. He’s just a terrific young man – great family. I think he just really liked it here and fit in. I’ve told you before, I think our players are the best recruiting tool. I think he really liked our guys and felt the family-type atmosphere. He’s a special young man. He’s fast. He’s quick. He’s athletic. He has the ability to get to the rim. As good as he is now, he’s going to continue getting better and better.”

Simmons on his son, Blake Simmons, a 6-foot-5 swing man out of Castle High School (who will be on athletic scholarship at UE): “It’s pretty exciting, to be quite honest. He’s worked really hard for a long, long time to have this opportunity. He’s a very good player. He puts a lot into it, and I think his skills, talents and abilities fit the way we want to play and the things we do. I’m just really looking forward to being able to coach him.”

Simmons on Duane Gibson, a 6-foot-3 guard from Villa Angela-St. Josheph High School in Cleveland: “(His recruitment) was more recent. Just through a mutual contact, somebody had let us know there’s a really good guard in the Ohio area, and we got on it right away. It’s a really heralded program that’s had a lot of really good players come out of there. We went up and watched right away and fell in love with him out of the gate. It was a situation where his high school coach went way out of his way – actually the coaching staff are brothers – to bring him down to a game. I think it was the Southern Indiana game. They really liked the atmosphere and everything, and they were on campus – they liked the small campus. I just think the young man was ready to make a decision, and we certainly liked what we saw in him.”

UE has one scholarship to fill either in this spring’s regular signing period or with the 2014 class. Simmons said his staff is still recruiting and won’t wait until next year to fill that scholarship if they find the right player.

So what kind of prospect?

“That’s always up for debate,” Simmons said. “I think right now we’d look more for what we call a combo guard — somebody who can play both the point and two — probably more the two. Just someone with good ball handling experience. But at the end of the day, if you’ve got one (scholarship) and a very good player is available, then we’ve got to take the best available player.”

Gibson rounds out UE’s 2013 class

Villa Angela-St. Joseph’s High School coach Babe Kwasniak tweeted a photo captioned “Proud coach” on Friday after UE commit Duane Gibson (right) announced that he’s signed with the Aces.

Duane Gibson, a senior point guard at Villa Angela-St. Joseph High School in Cleveland, celebrated signing his letter of intent to UE on Friday with Vikings teammate Demonte Flannigan, who’s headed to Cleveland State.

Gibson said he actually signed and sent his letter on Wednesday, the first day of the NCAA’s early period, and sent it to the Aces’ staff.

“It’s nice to not have to worry about it anymore,” he said. “When I’m playing in my high school games, I’ll be able to focus more out there.”

Gibson is part of a three-player 2013 recruiting class for the Aces along with Fishers (Ind.) High School guard Jaylon Brown and Castle forward Blake Simmons, son of coach Marty Simmons.

All three have signed their binding letters of intent, and UE expects to announce its class officially on Monday.

A 6-foot-3 guard, Gibson averaged 12 points, eight rebounds and six assists as a junior. Between now and when he arrives on campus, Gibson said he’s going to work more on his mid-range jump shooting.

Oh, and the top-rated point guard in Cleveland as rated by scouting service Triple Double Prospects has another goal.

“I want to win a state championship this year,” Gibson said. “I’m a pass-first player. I try to get my team involved, and I look for my shot when it’s needed.”

Gibson’s Villa Angela-St. Joseph High School competes in Ohio’s Division IV, for schools with the smallest enrollment in the state, but he said “our schedule this year is like a Division I schedule.”

Added VASJ coach Babe Kwasniak: “Duane Gibson is a special player. I expect him to have a stellar career playing for that staff at Evansville.”