Teams begin 2017 season Saturday
The John Brown University men’s basketball team will feature a mixture of old and new faces for the 201718 season.
The Golden Eagles have eight new players on this year’s roster in addition to the seven returners from the 2016-17 season that saw JBU finish with a 15-15 record and finish 7-11 and seventh in the Sooner Athletic Conference.
The Golden Eagles were picked to finish seventh out of 12 teams in the league in vote of the conference coaches.
“When you look at where we’re picked — we’re picked seventh out of 12 — that’s where we should be,” said head coach Jason Beschta, who is entering his fourth season at the helm of JBU basketball. “The six teams above us are all teams that have made the national tournament the last two years. … We need to be able to break into that and go show it.”
The season begins Saturday at 8 p.m. with the annual Toilet Paper Game against Ecclesia.
John Brown returns its leading scorer from a year ago in junior guard Jake Caudle, who averaged 12.3 points per game, along with junior Marquis Waller, who was JBU’s second-leading returning scorer from last year at 8.6 points per game.
Returning senior Josh Bowling, junior Benjamin Smith and sophomore Brenton Toussaint were all starters at one point last season while Joshua Rhodius and Dwayne Hart also played some at times.
John Brown graduated four seniors from last year’s team in Zach English, Ricky Roberts, Matthew Ledford and Miguel Martinez. Brandon Joseph and Sam Egedi both transferred to other schools, with Harris going to Our Lady of the Lake (Texas) and Egedi to Harris-Stowe.
Beschta is excited about the new group of players coming in for the 2017-18 season.
Two of the eight newcomers are transfers and both are natives of Croatia.
Forward Kristijan Joksimovic (6-6) comes to JBU from Ranger Junior College (Texas) and plays a wing position.
Sophomore forward Mateo Habazin (6-8) joins the team from West Alabama. Habazin has been battling a preseason injury but could be back by the start of 2018 and would be a big addition to the Golden Eagles’ front line.
“We haven’t had a post like him since I’ve been here,” Beschta said.
Two of John Brown’s six incoming freshman have come via the prep school route.
Deniser Carnes is a 6-6 forward from Atlanta who fits the system well and is a verstaile player that can shoot the 3-pointer and guard around the basket.
Guard Rokas Grabliauskas, from Providence Christian Academy in Rogers, is going to give the Golden Eagles an option at point guard.
“He’s deceptively quick with great range to his shot,” Beschta said. “He sees the floor well and is a really good play-making guard.”
Siloam Springs basketball fans will be familiar with guard Nathan Corder of Alma.
“He can really score and is a tough kid,” Beschta said. “He can really shoot the ball. We can teach defense, but it’s hard to teach the ability to shoot.”
Darrell Jones (6-1) of Port Arthur, Texas, can play both guard positions.
“He’s got a chance to be special,” Beschta said of Jones.
Jaylon Rucker (5-10) hails
from Frisco, Texas, and also plays point guard. Rucker and Grabliauskas are the likely candidates to man the point guard positions.
“(Rucker is) jet-quick and a really pesky defender,” Beschta said. “We’re going to be starting a freshman point guard. The only question is who?”
The Golden Eagles also signed Braden Bayless of Regent Prep out of Oklahoma, who played for former Siloam Springs head coach and athletics director Kerwin Dees. He will redshirt this season.
Adding these newcomers to the mix of returning players and the Golden Eagles are optimistic about their chances in 2017-18.
“We could have the look of some of Clark’s better teams,” Beschta said, referencing former head coach Clark Sheehy. “We have a bunch of guys averaging between seven and 12 (points) — a lot of guys able to score. Our emphasis is we’ve got to defend. The turnover margin
has to improve, rebounding has to improve, defensive field goal percentage has to improve. We scored well (last year). We scored at a high enough rate. We just have to take better care of the ball and win the turnover margin.”
Caudle will once again play a large role in the Golden Eagles’ plans.
Caudle (6-1), a former Bentonville standout, shot 40.7 percent from behind the 3-point line last year and averaged more than 29 minutes per game.
“I tell a lot of our guys, especially this early part of the year, you can overcome an awful lot by playing really hard,” Beschta said. “That’s something you don’t have to tell Jake. He just plays extremely hard. He doesn’t make a ton of mistkaes, but the ones he does make are overshadowed by how hard he plays. He is tough as they come. He makes such an impact on the game, offensively, even if he’s not scoring, his movement gets other guys shots.”
Bowling (6-6) moves into more of a wing role after playing a post position last year. He averaged 6.5 points a game a year ago.
Bowling is another that can knock down the outside shot, and in fact, 3-point shooting should be a team strength for the Golden Eagles.
“I think this team is going to be fun to watch,” Beschta said. “We can flat-out shoot the basketball.”
Waller (6-4) is one of the Golden Eagles’ more athletic players, who averaged 8.6 points per game.
He’s listed as a guard but can also play forward.
“He has the ability to explode for big stretches,” Beschta said. “He hasn’t come anywhere close to his ceiling. He’s been a phenomenal off the bench spark guy.”
Smith (6-8), another Bentonville product, showed flashes early last year of being able to score in bunches, including going 7 for 7 from behind the 3-point line in a win against Philander Smith. He averaged 6.5 points per game and shot 46.3 percent from behind the 3-point line.
“Ben had a really good first semester for us last year and not quite as effective as we got into conference,” Beschta said. “The big thing for Ben is he’s got to bring more than his 3-point shooting. He’s got to be more consistent.”
Toussaint (6-5) gives the Golden Eagles a big body at forward and a lot of energy. He averaged 3.8 points and 3.0 points per game.
“We’re just better when he’s on the floor,” Beschta said.
Rhodius (6-2) gives the Golden Eagles another option at guard, while Hart (6-8) is looking for his first full season with the Golden Eagles.
Hart placed 10 games last season before breaking his kneecap at Wayland Baptist.
The Golden Eagles have added two new assistant coaches to the staff for this season in Drew Schauss and Chris Dendinger.
NAIA national champion Texas Wesleyan was picked to win the Sooner Athletic Conference, while Oklahoma City was second, followed by Mid-America Christian (Okla.), Science and Arts (Okla.), Wayland Baptist, Southwestern Assemblies of God and John Brown. St. Gregory’s (Okla.) was picked eighth, followed by Southwestern Christian (Okla.), Central Christian (Kan.), Oklahoma Panhandle State and Bacone (Okla.).
“Our league is going to be as tough as its been since I’ve been here,” Beschta said. “The SAC has won the national tournament the last two years. Teams have reloaded with better transfers.
“We do have our work cut out for us, but we’ve got some tough nonconference games when you look at our schedule. For us to be good we need to start off well in conference.”
John Brown’s Marquis Waller slices through traffic in an exhibition game against Baylor last season. Waller, a junior, is expected to be a key player for the Golden Eagles in 2017-18.
John Brown guard Jake Caudle is back for his junior season after leading the Golden Eagles in scoring at 12.3 points per game last season.