Aside from the big-name returners for the University of Evansville men’s basketball team — namely D.J. Balentine, Ryan Sawvell, and Adam Wing — the Aces have a bevy of incoming freshmen that will immediately compete for playing time.
UE brings in five rookie faces — Christian Benzon, Jaylon Brown, Duane “Boo” Gibson, Tyler Ptacek, and Blake Simmons — who will all be looking to contribute.
“I think each one of them brings something different,” said junior forward Ryan Sawvell. “Blake, he does a little bit of everything; Jaylon Brown, very athletic, probably the most athletic on the team; Boo, very skilled point guard, pass-first; Tyler he’s a lights-out shooter.”
Luckily for the freshmen, too, they had all summer to practice (in a limited fashion) with the team and do conditioning with the coaching staff, allowing more time to learn the offense. That’ll be especially useful for Gibson, who is expected to start at point guard this season.
“He’s a very good communicator, runs the floor very well,” Sawvell said. “He cuts very well — I’m guessing he gets that from his dad — and pretty good on defense. I think he needs to get a little bit tougher, but overall I think he’s been doing a really god job.
“Like I said, he’s a pass first point guard, and I think that’s exactly what this team needs with all the cutting that we do. He’s very good at delivering the ball on time.”
The 6-foot-3 guard will be expected to take over Troy Taylor’s starting role, but not necessarily his numbers. Taylor averaged 6.9 points and rebounds per game last season as the floor general, but since UE is returning a handful of contributors, the Aces would rather rely on returners like Balentine and Egidijus Mockevicius than the youngsters.
“(Boo is) definitely what we need,” Balentine said. “We have a lot of scorers — when we need him to score he’ll score — but he’s always looking to assist. He’ll probably have 10 assists and 10 points, he’s that kind of guy. It’s great for our team.”
SOPHOMORE STAR: Sophomore guard D.J. Balentine is expected to be the biggest contributor for the Aces this season, as he’s the top returning scorer from last year’s CIT semifinalist team.
Though he’s got a nice outside shot and is a good ball handler, he hasn’t been working on his perimeter game that much.
“(I’ve been working on my) inside game,” he said. “Coach has always told me to post up more because I didn’t get to the free throw line. They always make jokes about me not getting to the free throw line a lot, so I’m really improving on my post game, back to the basket-type of stuff. That’s probably the most improvement.”
Don’t expect the 6-foot-2 guard to be taking touches away from Mockevicius, though.
COACH’S PET?: Blake Simmons, head coach Marty Simmons’ son, has been around the Aces’ program for years — the upperclassmen have seen him play longer than any of the other freshmen.
“It’s actually a little weird, because when I came in I would watch him play at the high school camps and at open gyms,” Sawvell said. “Now that he’s actually here, it’s been a little weird, but he’s been doing a great job, very coachable, willing to learn.”
Simmons should see some time at the ‘4’ position this season along with Sawvell and Jaylon Moore.