2017-18 IN REVIEW: The Ashland University men's basketball team reached the 20-win mark for the second time in three years and advanced to the GLIAC Tournament semifinal for the third straight season. The Eagles had several impressive wins, including the first Upper Peninsula road sweep since the 1999-2000 season and a 22-point second-half comeback in the GLIAC Tournament quarterfinal to beat Northern Michigan in overtime.
BIG PIECES GRADUATE: The end of last season saw two starters, fifth-year forward Wendell Davis and forward Marsalis Hamilton, wrap up their careers, along with key reserve, center Teddy Metzen. Davis goes down as one of the program's all-time greats – a three-time all-region player, who ranks second in program history in points and third in rebounds.
LOOKING AHEAD TO 2018-19: With the losses of Davis, Hamilton and Metzen, the Eagles are no doubt losing key pieces to the core of the team from the last several years. Now, the keys are turned over to a talented group of returners, including senior guard Ben Haraway and junior center Drew Noble, who combined to average 26.4 points per game last season. Both were named to the All-GLIAC second team last season with Noble also earning all-defense plaudits.
"We're excited to see how they progress this summer," said head coach John Ellenwood, who is entering his 10th season on the AU bench. "Ben's going into his senior year, this is definitely his team, and he has to be the leader of it. Drew is poised for an unbelievable year. Those two guys are going to be exciting."
Redshirt-sophomore wing Aaron Thompson is also returning after a year of growth starting all 30 games last season and gaining positive experience on the floor. He scored a career-high 14 points in back-to-back games in February and was often tasked with the toughest perimeter assignment on the defensive end.
"I thought Aaron Thompson had a great finish to his redshirt-freshman year," said Ellenwood. "His work ethic and mindset are two things that are going to help propel him into this season. I think he's going to have a great summer and it will help us this winter."
The Eagles also bring back senior forward Phil Frentsos, who came of the bench last season to fill in valuable minutes. Ellenwood will continue to rely on his toughness on the defensive end and his ability to knock down shots.
Another player Ellenwood and his staff expect to fill a big role is redshirt-freshman Ryan Batte, who sat last year while learning the system and getting integrated into the program. He battled an injury early in the season, but worked his way back into practice in the latter portion of the year.
"Once he got back into it, you can see the competitive edge in him that is going to make him a great player," Ellenwood said. "He's a dynamic player and capable of doing a lot of things for us, whether that's passing, shooting from the outside, scoring down low, going off the dribble. Defensively, he's a vocal player."
The program also added forward Derek Koch and guard Rodrick Caldwell as transfers from Bowling Green State University where both started for the Falcons.
"You talk to guys and every time you bring up Derek Koch and say, 'how's he doing,' they're smiling. Rodrick Caldwell same thing," Ellenwood said. "They're just like, 'man, he's really good coach.' It's nice to have those assurances that you have two guys who are going to be good."
That doesn't mean there won't be a learning curve as the players gel in the preseason workouts once they return for classes in the fall. A lot needs to fall into place from a chemistry standpoint as returning players integrate with transfer players and a group of freshmen - Dylan Beaugard and Jordan Burge and Jake McLoughlin – that can make an impact.
"As coaches, we'll have a short amount of time to figure out how they fit in and how the chemistry will work," said Ellenwood. "The thing we're going to hit home right away with all of these guys is that the ball has to be the best athlete. We need to find ways for all the guys to benefit in the system that we play."