Third-year head coach Barry Hinson has six freshmen on this year's team.
June 24, 2014
By Tom Weber
CARBONDALE, Ill. - The Missouri Valley Conference had its annual summer teleconference featuring men's basketball head coaches and here's a synopsis of each coach's remarks.
Porter Moser, Loyola
Extremely optimistic about our recruiting class. I'm optimistic about the direction of the league. I've been in the league when we had multiple bids to the NCAA Tournament and that helps every school in recruiting. This league had an unbelievable recruiting class top to bottom. Our top five players in scoring and minutes played are return. There is definitely an upgrade to our roster with seven new players. Coffeyville transfers Earl Peterson (6-3, 180, Jr) and Montel James (6-7, 220, Jr.) come from a great culture and can help right away. We have a big freshman class. Ben Richardson (6-2, Fr.) won two state championships. We signed a 6-6 wing in Jay Knuth, long wing in Donte Ingram (6-6, Fr.). Marlon Jones is 6-8 and very athletic. We just signed a 6-9 kid from Finland (Julius Rajala). We struggled rebounding the ball last year and we addressed that. We played Milton Doyle (6-4, 180, So.), Christian Thomas (6-5, 220, Sr.) and Jeff White (6-1, 183, Jr.) way too many minutes last year. I rode those guys too hard and too long and hope to cultivate a deeper bench this year. Our biggest need still is leadership and the "it" factor. We have to build culture. Doyle has to get stronger. He wore down toward the end of the season. He was a freshman who had to be our best player, and that's not healthy to do at this level. He can become an elite defender in this league. This league is unbelievably well-scouted. They are going to know he's a key player for us. Wichita State has set a bar of excellence and we're all chasing them.
Geno Ford, Bradley
We have three starters coming back -- Xzavier Taylor (6-9, 225, So.), Auston Barnes (6-8, 215, Sr.) and Omari Grier (6-4, 180, Jr.). Barnes is the only senior on our roster. We're adding seven new guys and our size and athleticism will be much improved. We're excited about the pieces we have, but I think the league will be better from top to bottom because of the number of returning guys and the recruiting teams have done. Scheduling is the most difficult part of our jobs. It's hard to get BCS teams to play in your building. It's unfortunate that the media hammered on BracketBusters because it gave us two built-in games that you didn't have to schedule, plus the Mountain West Challenge. Doug Elgin was way ahead of the game when he started the BracketBusters. Wichita State can get the occasional high-major to play home and home, because it doesn't seem bad to lose to them, but if the BCS team comes to UNI or Bradley and loses, they have to explain what happened. Unrealistic expectations for Josh Cunningham (6-7, 180, Fr.) by outsiders can be suffocating. He's going to be a very good player at Bradley. Does that happen Day One? In recruiting him, we sold him on making a great impact at Bradley early. His mom's response was when he was a freshman in high school, he didn't play a lot, so that wasn't a concern for them. He's a very humble, nice kid and great student. Wichita has the pedal to the metal and we have to have some teams compete with them or the league can't grow. They're the standard in the league by a mile. Illinois transfer Mike Shaw (6-8, 230, Jr.) is big, athletic and is really going to be a good big man in the MVC. He has the ability to step away from the basket, but he's also physically explosive near the basket. He was our best player in practice last year by a substantial margin. I have high expectations for him.
Our league is cyclical and we're one of the few conferences that have had all the teams go to the NCAA Tournament. When I came into the league we were near the bottom looking up at Southern Illinois and Creighton. Getting to the top is one challenge, but maintaining excellence, like Gonzaga has done, is another thing. The Power Six conferences want a bigger piece of the pie and to legislate rules and it will be interesting to see how it plays out. I don't think they'll do anything to cause the NCAA Tournament to go away, but something short of that might be possible. Our schedule will be the most difficult one since I've been here -- a ton of BCS teams. We lost the Mountain West Challenge, Creighton and BracketBuster, and those are quality games lost from your schedule, and that hurts. The league is taking steps to get schools to not only schedule well, but do well. We're not going to go on the road for checks. If we can find teams that want to play home and home or neutral sites -- we're playing Memphis at a neutral site -- you have to be creative. It will be tremendously difficult to replace Cleanthony Early. We'll have a handful of guys see time at that position this season. It wouldn't surprise me if Fred VanVleet (5-11, 194, Jr.) scores more. Assuming he stays healthy, he'll make some progress on his defense. He's working hard on his body. He's at the Deron Williams top 20 point guard camp. He understands our system as well as I do.
Marty Simmons, Evansville
We return all five starters from last year's team that had no seniors. I was proud of how the young guys performed last year. Our guys learned a lot. Everybody knows what's going on a little bit better this season. Mislav Brzoja (6-4, 205, So.) is a transfer from Villanova who played on the Croatian National Team. He's a good all-around player, a strong athletic kid. Willie Wiley (6-7, 215, Jr.) is a juco transfer from Vincennes who is long, athletic. Taylor Stafford (6-1, 170, Jr) is another junior college player who is really quick and athletic. All three of those guys have the ability to challenge and step in and play from the start. Wiley can stretch you out and shoot it, nice touch, finish in transition. We've not been a good offensive rebounding team, and he adds to that. He's a terrific kid who wants to be very good and brings a different dimension to our team. DJ Ballentine (6-2, 205, Jr.) will be first to admit he needs to get better in all areas. He's a driven young man. He wants to improve on defense, rebounding and leadership. We have to improve defensively and be a more consistent-shooting team. We have to be stronger with the basketball and not turn it over.
Greg Lansing, Indiana State
This is going to be different for us. We'll find out what life's like without the ball in No. 13's (Jake Odum's) hands, but I like us. We have Kristian Smith (6-6, 215, Jr.) who is going to be an outstanding player for us, an All-Conference caliber guy. Justin Gant (6-9, 230, Sr.) can be as good as he wants to be and I think the light's gone on for him. Jake Kitchell (6-10,247, Sr.) is coming back at our five spot. Devonte Brown (6-2, 195, Jr.) will be our other leader -- he's a really tough kid. We really like our new guys. We have seven new players, Charles Bennett (5-10, 175, Jr.) can step in at point guard and was an All-American in junior college. He's explosive, he can shoot the ball and defend. Brandon Murphy is 6-7, 270, Laquarious Paige (6-2, 175, Fr.) is a fast-twitch player. Matt Van Scyoc (6-6, 200, Jr.) and Brandon Burnett (6-6, 225, Jr.) -- I really like this group of guys. We've had a lot of fun this summer and worked really hard. Wichita could have won the National Championship last year. What they're doing is unbelievable. We're recovering from the loss of Creighton. This league is going to be really good this year and next. We have to quit worrying about Creighton and the rest of us have to up our game. We have to continue to improve and grow as a league. Everybody is upping the level of their schedules. We talk about it continuously at our league meetings. We want to play in great MTEs. We've already schedule those through 2016.
Ray Giacolletti, Drake
Gary Ricks (6-1, 182, Sr.) is back and released full to practice. It was a trickier situation than your normal broken foot, and our training staff did an unbelievable job. We have five freshmen and two transfers. Of the five freshmen, two of them have chance to make immediate impact -- Reed Timmer (6-1, Fr.) and Ore Arogundade (6-3, 180, Fr.) -- those two have been very impressive. I'm pleased with our core group of returning seniors. We have two Big Ten transfers who will sit this year. I'm hoping college basketball never changes. The NCAA Tournament is too special. Our athletic administration is prepared, if a stipend is involved, to do what everyone else does. It's amazing Mark Few has been to 15-straight NCAA Tournaments and done it a number of different ways. I was with him for six. Some guys over-achieved, we got lucky with a foreign guy here and there to sustain it. I don't think you can consistently do it with just high school guys. We have two Big Ten transfers who played at a high level and had success. We don't look at recruiting rankings and number of stars. It's more trusting our staff's eyes and instincts. If you look around the NBA today, there's so many guys that came from obscure places and people didn't follow the normal route to recruit them, and people we're able to forecast how they would progress. We have so many positives with a new practice facility opening in September. It almost brings a tear to your eye with the commitment of Drake's administration to basketball.
Ben Jacobson, UNI
We do everything we can to stay in lock-step in areas we have control over, whether it's the stipend or what may come our way with the power conferences. Last year was a perfect storm of Creighton leaving and a very young league. Now we have a bunch of teams with players back. We'll be much stronger across the board and that needs to show up in our non-conference games. We have a good group back and we need to get better defensively and rebounding. Wyatt Lohaus (6-2, 185, Fr.) is off to a great start. He has a tremenouds work ethic and feel for game of basketball, puts in a ton of time and works at a level that impacts his teammates. We've been extremely pleased with him and no question he'll be a very good player for us. The opportunity to get high-quality home games is hard for everybody in our league. We're working on getting one or two more games. We don't have anything scheduled with Creighton. My focus needs to remain where I've always been as a head coach -- on defense and rebounding. If my focus strays -- the players will take my cue. I need to do a better job of defining who we are and what we're about. We improved defensively in the last month of last season, but there's room for improvement. We got pretty good offensively last year and had a little bit of the mentality that if the other team scores, we'll get those points back. That's the wrong way to win a championship and wrong way to get to the NCAA Tournament. If we can improve our commitment to individual battles, the toughness it takes and make that our calling card, we can have a great year. Paul Jesperson (6-6, 208, Jr.) was a starter for Virginia two years ago and everything he saw in that league and at that level will help him get off to good start. He's a big guard, legit 6-6, can put it on the floor, has a chip on his shoulder. He's a big part of what we're doing.
Dan Muller, Illinois State
We have some freshmen and junior college players with high character. We have some bigs, we have some guards and I like my team a lot. The Valley will be better this year. Last year was a young year and a down year for the MVC. Losing Creighton affected the league and there were some teams that were young and down. Northern Iowa is going to be good. We plan on being very, very good. I don't want to leave other teams out. I almost guarantee you we'll have multiple bids this year. We have teams with very good schedules that will give us opportunities for good wins. The team that wins the league this year could have a significant number of losses.
Barry Hinson, Southern Illinois
Ibby Djimde (6-8, 255, Jr.) didn't play a whole lot at Illinois and there's an obvious reason he transferred. I was his third head coach in three years. He's starting to compete, but he's going to be really rusty. When he came in here, he wasn't able to really dunk, and he's gotten better in his body goals and his explosiveness. His back to the basket skills have to improve, but he wants to get better. In the summer we don't do anything by position, we're just trying to get better at skill development. Both Bola Olaniyan (6-7, 225, So.) and Ibby's game have to improve a tremendous amount or the true freshmen (Jordan Caroline, Austin Weiher) will take playing time away from them. Our younger guys are pushing the older players because they're better than what we've had in the past. Anthony Beane (6-2, 180, So.) has to learn how to play with his left hand, learn how to back cut, learn how to play without the ball in his hands. He's done a great job of it this summer. He knows he's going to be a target, but he's surrounded by better players. We finally have guys who we feel can shoot from the perimeter and guys who can score around the basket. Wichita State has raised the standard. Missouri State and Northern Iowa are going to be really good. I think we'll be better, but I don't think we'll be at the point where we can challenge for a league championship. We'll have six freshmen and three sophomores and might be the youngest team in the country. I like the St. Louis-area recruits. Chaz Glotta (6-2, 175, Fr.) played for a coach who was his father. I think Armon Fletcher (6-4, 185, Fr.) is the sleeper of the group. He has a lot of maturation physically to go through. I think Deion Lavender (6-3, 180, Fr.) is a hidden treasure. He played at a small-school level and scored a lot of points and will get better the more he's around competition.
Paul Lusk, Missouri State
Getting Marcus Marshall (6-3, 190, Jr.) back is important for us. He had an outstanding freshman year and didn't have much of a sophomore year getting hurt in our fourth game. He's doing great and has been really good this summer. All of the other returners will get better and we're excited about the new guys. We think Tyler McCullough (6-11, 246, So.) has a very bright future. He had some good moments and some tough moments last year, typical of freshmen. He's a worker. His body development will be very important. He can be a very good post player in this league. We needed some length and athleticism and we feel we were able to get that with this class. Robin Thompson (6-6, 221, Fr.) is only 6-foot-5, but he has size 17 shoes and a huge wingspan. He has a bright future. Loomis Gerring (6-5, 200, Jr.) comes from an excellent program. He's a 6-5 athlete on a team with two juco All-Americans and led the team in scoring and rebounding. Cam Boone (6-6, 235, Jr.) gets here this weekend. He's a forward who rebounds in traffic. They're low-maintenance guys who will be good fits. Most of the BCS schools aren't willing to do true home and homes. We're still looking for games. We'll be in the Great Alaska Shootout. We're going to Texas Tech for a guarantee game.