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EKU men’s basketball adds five players to roster; Colonels look to contend for OVC crown next season

Eastern Kentucky University head coach A.W. Hamilton has announced the addition of five players for next season. The five signees are Devontae Blanton, Matt Cromer, Cheikh Faye, Brandon Knapper and Cooper Robb.

Blanton is a 6-foot-6 wing out of powerhouse St. Edward High School in Lakewood, Ohio, a suburb of Cleveland. A four-year starter at St. Edward, Blanton scored 1,000 career points and helped the Eagles reach two state final fours.

St. Edward had won 19 consecutive games and was ranked No. 1 in Ohio and No. 18 in the country by MaxPreps before this season was cut short. Blanton was voted second team all-state as a senior after averaging 18.3 points and 6.5 rebounds per game, while shooting 43 percent from behind the arc.

He was named to all-tournament teams for the Cleveland Scholastic Play-by-Play Classic and the Flying to the Hoop Basketball Invitational.

As a junior, Blanton led St. Edward in scoring, rebounding and assists.

EKU has added recruits Cheikh Faye, Matt Cromer, Devontae Blanton, Brandon Knapper and Cooper Robb to the roster.

Blanton’s older sister, Delvona Oliver, was a junior college All-American at Cincinnati State before going on to play at Maryland from 2002 to 2004. His brother, Delvon Roe, was a three-year starter at Michigan State and played in two final fours and a national championship game with the Spartans.

“Devontae checks all the boxes when it comes to recruiting,” Hamilton said. “He comes from a basketball family, a winning program at St. Edward, and he loves to compete. We’re very excited to get a well-rounded, well-coached player with a tremendous basketball IQ. Devontae’s versatility fits our style perfectly and will be a huge asset for our team.”

Cromer is a 6-foot-2 guard out of South Laurel High School. He has accepted a preferred walk-on spot with the Colonels. Cromer was voted the 13th Region Player of the Year and first team all-state after averaging 24.7 points and 8.5 rebounds per game this season. He was also selected to play in the Kentucky/Ohio Senior All-Star Game before it was canceled.

Cromer scored more than 2,000 points in his South Laurel career.

“Matt is a very talented player who had a tremendous senior season at South Laurel,” Hamilton said. “He’s been well coached and has a high basketball IQ. We are thrilled to welcome another decorated Kentucky high school player into our program.”

Faye is a 6-foot-7 wing from Chipola College in Marianna, Fla. He averaged 12.4 points and 3.9 rebounds per game while shooting 38 percent from 3-point range and 82 percent from the free-throw line this season as a sophomore. Faye was voted second team All-Panhandle Conference both years at Chipola.

EKU’s A.W. Hamilton was named the 2020 Ohio Valley Conference Coach of the Year. (EKU photo)

Faye is originally from Fatick, Senegal. He was a member of the The NBA Academy Africa’s inaugural class in May of 2017. He competed for The NBA Academy Africa in the 2017 NBA Academy Games in Canberra, Australia, where his team finished as the tournament champions. In December of 2017, Faye and The NBA Academy competed against top international prospects at the Get Better Academy Invitational in Prague, Czech Republic.

Before joining The NBA Academy Africa, Faye participated in the Basketball Without Borders Global camp in New Orleans during the 2017 NBA All-Star Weekend.

“Cheikh has a great basketball pedigree, as he comes from a line of tradition-rich, winning programs,” Hamilton said. “Starting out at SEED Academy, with stops at NBA Africa and Chipola College, we are getting a student-athlete who exudes winning habits, both on and off the floor. Basketball-wise, Cheikh fits perfectly into our culture and system.

“He was a two-time all-conference selection in one of the best junior college leagues in the country. He’s skilled, versatile, 6-7 and can really make shots. The most intriguing thing about Cheikh is he has not even scratched the surface of his full potential.”

Robb is a 6-foot-1 guard and a transfer from UNC Charlotte, where he played the last two seasons. At Charlotte, Robb appeared in 51 games, starting 23 of them. He averaged 5.8 points, 3.2 rebounds, 1.4 steals and 1.2 assists per game during his time as a 49er. Robb led Charlotte in 3-point shooting this season (43.9 percent). He ranked second in Conference USA in 3-point percentage during league play (48.7 percent).

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Before signing with Charlotte, Robb was a multi-sport star at Hamilton’s alma mater, Scott County High School in Georgetown. He was an all-state performer in basketball, football and baseball for the Cardinals. As a senior, he was given the Wah Wah Jones Award, which is presented annually to a male athlete who excels in multiple sports for his high school while also performing well in the classroom and in the community.

Robb teamed up with current EKU player Michael Moreno to lead Scott County to consecutive 11th Region titles in 2017 and 2018. Robb, Moreno and the Cardinals reached the state championship game in 2018.

“It’s always a great day when a local hero comes home,” Hamilton said. “I’m excited to welcome Cooper Robb back to Kentucky, and I know he is going to be special for us in our biggest games. Cooper had a tremendous high school career playing for legendary coach Billy Hicks at Scott County.

“Our fans will absolutely love Cooper’s toughness and ability to make winning plays. He has proven himself at the collegiate level coming from Charlotte. He brings so many intangibles while having the ability to create shots, pass and handle the ball.”

Knapper is a 6-0 guard who played the past two seasons under Bob Huggins at West Virginia. Knapper appeared in 27 games for the Mountaineers this season, averaging 2.6 points-per-game. He scored a season-high 10 points versus Texas Tech on Jan. 11. He earned second team Academic All-Big 12 honors.

Brandon Knapper

As a redshirt freshman in 2018-19, Knapper averaged 5.0 points per contest and poured in a career-high 25 points (including 4-of-6 shooting from deep) in a win over Oklahoma.

Knapper played under Hamilton at Hargrave Military Academy during the 2016-17 season. He averaged 18.0 points and 3.1 assists per game, while shooting 39 percent from 3-point range and 95 percent from the free-throw line, to help lead Hargrave to the National Prep Final Four.

Before arriving at Hargrave, Knapper was a three-time all-state performer at South Charleston High School. He averaged 28.5 points, 6.0 assists and 5.4 steals per game as a senior.

“I’m thrilled to be reunited with Brandon,” Hamilton said. “We went 43-2 during his prep year at Hargrave and reached the National Final Four. Not only did we win, but our team averaged 114 points per game and set numerous Hargrave records. He’s a big time playmaker with unlimited range on his jump shot. Brandon has proven himself at the collegiate level at West Virginia, with the best example being when he scored 25 points as a freshman in a victory over Oklahoma.”

These five recruits join guard Wendell Green Jr. in EKU’s 2020 signing class. The Colonels posted a 16-17 overall record this season, including a 12-6 mark in the Ohio Valley Conference. Hamilton was named the 2020 Ohio Valley Conference Coach of the Year.

From Eastern Kentucky University

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