Golden Eagles take the court
Season begins Saturday with Toilet Paper Game
When the Sooner Athletic Conference Men’s Basketball Preseason Poll came out in mid-October, John Brown coach Jason Beschta wasn’t surprised to see the Golden Eagles picked eighth.
“There are six teams in the league who were in the national tournament last year,” Beschta said,. “So the best we were going to start was seventh, and MACU (Mid-America Christian) had a strong recruiting class and they swept us last year, so they should be a step above us.”
John Brown finished 1614 overall in 2017-18 and 10-10 in SAC play, its best conference finish under Beschta. The Golden Eagles hope to continue their climb up the conference ladder in 2018-19.
“I think we certainly have expectations above that positioning, but we have to prove our way into that,” said Beschta, who’s entering his fifth season at JBU. “There’s some really good talent in our league for sure.”
John Brown begins its season at 7 p.m. Saturday against Ecclesia in the annual Toilet Paper Game at Bill George Arena.
The Golden Eagles return their top seven scorers from a year ago and it would have been eight, but senior guard Marquis Waller (9.1 points, 5.0 rebounds) is expected to redshirt.
Expecting to lead the way is senior guard Jake Caudle (6-1, Bentonville), who led the team in scoring at 18.6 points per game and made 92 of 216 (42.6 percent) from behind the 3-point line. Caudle was a first-team All-Sooner Athletic Conference selection and honorable mention NAIA All-American last year.
“That’s a hard year to build on and improve on,” Beschta said of Caudle. “His numbers and percentages were phenomenal across the board. The funny thing with Jake is he just keeps raising the bar by how hard he works.
He just keeps getting better. Other coaches in the league have a lot of respect for him.”
Senior forward Josh Bowling (6-6, Detroit) had moments last year where he looked like a first-team All-Conference selection, exploding for 33 points against Oklahoma City and 35 against Texas Wesleyan. Then there were other nights where he wasn’t as effective.
“He can be a really difficult matchup,” Beschta said of Bowling.
Bowling averaged 12.8 points and 5.0 rebounds per game and was an AllSAC honorable mention selection. Bowling also hit 51 of 121 (42.7 percent) from behind the 3-point line.
“I hope that as a senior he’s going to feel the urgency every game,” Beschta said. “He has a tendency to let the foot off the gas. I don’t think he’s lazy. I just think he’s too calculated and smart for his own good. I think this year he’s going to feel the pressure because of our depth at his spot. If he takes the foot off the gas, we’ve got some guys that will play over him and we won’t skip a beat.”
The Golden Eagles do feel good about their depth at forward and in
the post with Bowling, junior Brenton Toussaint (6-5, Clarence, La.), sophomore Densier Carnes (6-6, Atlanta) and junior Quintin Bailey (6-7 Stratford, New England).
“That’s four strong post guys for us,” Beschta said.
Toussaint was having a solid season, averaging 7.5 points and 3.9 rebounds per game before an injury cut short his sophomore season.
“Brent is a guy who started a lot of games for us, finished the year injured and wasn’t able to play late,” Beschta said. “That hurt us. He just brings such a physical presence and he’s playing better than ever before. His conditioning is better, and he’s playing with a lot of confidence.”
Carnes is another one who struggled with injuries, but his bout on the bench came on the front end of the season. Carnes wound up averaging 5.7 points per game, but over his last six games he scored more than 10 points per game.
“Densier really stepped up for us when Brent got hurt last year and put up some big numbers in the last handful of games,” Beschta said. “He probably has got the best chance of any of our posts of having monster nights because he can shoot the 3, drive, post up and get rebounds. He’s a threat. Other coaches in our league loved him.”
Senior Ben Smith (6-8, Bentonville) has shown the capability of scoring in bunches, once hitting 7 of 7 3-pointers in a game against Philander Smith. He gives the Golden Eagles another option in the post and outside.
“Ben Smith’s been a guy who can score for us and has had some big rebounding nights,” Beschta said. “We’re so deep and competitive this year at that spot, he’s going to have to be great at what he’s good at to beat out other guys to see time.”
Senior Dwayne Hart (6-8, Falmouth, Jamaica) appears to have turned a corner for the Golden Eagles. Hart saw action in 16 games a year ago.
“He’s going to fight to get some minutes,” Beschta said. “He has an ability to affect shots. He plays with a lot of energy, is always talking on defense, just a great team guy.”
Redshirt freshman Braden Bayless (6-6, Tulsa) spent a year practicing with JBU last year.
“He works extremely hard and keep getting better,” Beschta said. “He’s got some older guys in front of him. We expect in the future for him to be a guy that can help us.”
At the guard spots, sophomore Rokas Grabliauskas (6-4, Kaunas, Lithuania/ Providence Academy) started 24 games at point guard last year and led the team with 81 assists while averaging 6.6 points.
“Rokas doesn’t look like a guy that’s going to be as good with the ball as he is,” Beschta said. “He is really strong with the basketball. He’s a guy you feel good with the ball. He calms us. He doesn’t get rattled by pressure.”
Sophomore Nathan Corder (6-2, Alma) played in 28 games and averaged 6.0 points and canned 44 of 116 3-pointers (37.9 percent) which was third on the team behind Caudle and Bowling.
“Nate improved a lot over the course of last year to where he contributed,” Beschta said of Corder. “He can flat-out shoot the basketball. For us his ability to defend and make good decisions is the thing that leads to him playing more or less. He’s got to work on the other things.”
JBU is bringing in several new faces to go with the returning veterans.
Junior transfer Desmond Kennedy (6-3, Cedar Valley) gives the Golden Eagles another scoring punch at the wing along with Caudle.
“That’s the beauty of having another guy that can shoot the ball,” Beschta said. “He can create his own shot.”
Another transfer is junior forward Quintin Bailey (6-7, Stratford, New Zealand), who transfers in from Citrus (Calif.).
“He’s a smart player and super tough and strong,” Bescht said. “He’s a great passer as a post which is rare.”
Freshman guard Ira Perrier (6-3, Brighton, England/The Vanguard School) is a good defensive player and a “phenomenal team guy,” Beschta said.
“He’ll make us better this year and over his next four years.”
Freshman Luke Harper (6-3, Plano, Texas) can play on or off the ball and is really strong and physical for a freshman.
“He’s going to be in the mix for a starting spot,” Beschta said.
The Golden Eagles plan to redshirt freshman Nathan Stoltz (6-6, College Station, Texas).
John Brown forward Josh Bowling, left, was an All-Sooner Athletic Conference honorable mention selection for the Golden Eagles last year. JBU begins its season at 7 p.m. Saturday with the Toilet Paper Game against Ecclesia.
John Brown guard Jake Caudle of Bentonville returns to the Golden Eagles basketball team this fall after leading JBU in scoring last season and earning All-Sooner Athletic Conference first team honors.