JBU bas­ket­ball

Teams be­gin 2017 sea­son Satur­day

Siloam Springs Herald Leader - - FRONT PAGE - By Gra­ham Thomas Staff Writer gth­omas@nwadg.com ■

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.”

Photo cour­tesy of JBU Sports In­for­ma­tion

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.

Photo cour­tesy of JBU Sports In­for­ma­tion

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.

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