It’s finally here. The UE men’s basketball team starts its 2013-14 season tonight at 7 p.m. at the Ford Center as they take on NAIA opponent Martin Methodist.
Glimpses of what the Aces can be have been shown in their past two exhibition games, so here’s a position-by-position breakdown of what to see this season:
POINT GUARD: Lucky for UE, the squad boasts three players that can run the motion offense. Unfortunately, two of them are freshmen. Head coach Marty Simmons brought in two athletic ball handlers in Duane Gibson and Jaylon Brown to run the point, but adapting to the offense isn’t the easiest task for a rookie, so Simmons said he may even use sophomore D.J. Balentine as the floor general at times. Gibson got the starting nod for the first to exhibition games and will probably be the Aces’ first option to run the point, while Brown’s sheer athleticism makes him a natural scorer when he’s the floor general. Balentine’s the same way as Brown, more of a score-first point guard, and the sophomore showed his ability to slash to the basket with his 25 points against Illinois-Springfield. Look for him to do much more of the same the rest of the season.
SHOOTING GUARD: Though Balentine played a bit of point against the Prairie Stars, the sophomore is more of a natural scorer and is typically the Aces’ starting shooting guard. He’s typically an outside shooter, but he’s got the athleticism and skills to drive to the basket. And aside from him, the Aces have a plethora of other guards — albeit very young guards. UE’s backcourt is all freshmen and sophomores, but there’s plenty of talent between them. Adam Wing is a returner from last year’s team who saw lots of playing time last season and Mike Leazer has a year of experience under his belt. The Aces also have a handful of freshmen guards, including Christian Benzon, Tyler Ptacek and transfer Mislav Brzoja, who will sit out this year due to NCAA rules.
FORWARD: UE also has depth in the frontcourt, just with a bit more experience. Juniors Ryan Sawvell, Rokas Cesnulevicius, and Jaylon Moore are the top Aces forwards, as Sawvell and Moore saw regular action last season. The three are the oldest players on the team and therefore the natural leaders, and they’ll help redshirt freshman David Howard and freshman Blake Simmons pick up speed as the season progresses. Though Howard sat out last season, he still got a year’s worth of practice under his belt and was able to get in game shape last season and over the summer, and Simmons has witnessed the offense for six years as the son of the head coach. Though Simmons is more of a swingman, these five players provide needed depth in arguably the most experienced area for the Aces.
CENTER: The Aces have just one true center in sophomore Egidijus Mockevicius with plenty of others who can play the ‘5’ in different rotations. Mockevicius is the obvious leader of the frontcourt, boasting an improved physique and more confidence in the post, but is also prone to foul trouble. With a deep frontcourt, Marty Simmons is able to put Mockevicius in with Sawvell, Moore or Simmons, and Moore and Howard are able to play center when Mockevicius is on the bench. A bigger lineup will also be helpful come Missouri Valley Conference time.