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McHale promises ‘excitement’ in McBrayer Arena as Colonels open new season with IUPUI


The Eastern Kentucky University men’s basketball team opens the 2016-17 season on Friday night when the Colonels host IUPUI at McBrayer Arena at 8:00 p.m.

When second-year head coach Dan McHale was hired in April of 2015, he promised to bring “excitement to McBrayer Arena with a fast-paced style of play,” adding “it’s going to be fun for our players and our fans.”

In year one, he delivered on that promise. McHale’s Colonels ranked 18th in the country in scoring offense (80.5 points-per-game) and scored over 100 points in three games, all in front of a raucous McBrayer crowd.

Dan McHale enters his second season as head coach (EKU Athletics Photo)

Dan McHale enters his second season as head coach (EKU Athletics Photo)

McHale’s up-tempo system led to gaudy offensive numbers. EKU was the only school in the OVC to rank in the top three in the conference in all shooting percentage categories – first in three-point percentage (39.5), second in field goal percentage (a school-record 49.1) and third in free throw percentage (73.0).

Players thrived under McHale’s tutelage, most notably freshman forward Nick Mayo. Mayo developed into one of the top rookies in the country, starting all 31 games and averaging 14.5 points, 4.9 rebounds, 1.1 assists and 1.1 blocks-per-game while hitting 60.7 percent from the field, 55.6 percent from three-point range and 80.2 percent from the free throw line. He was voted the OVC Freshman of the Year and became one of only two freshmen in the last five years to be voted first team All-OVC, joining former Murray State guard and NBA first round draft pick Cameron Payne (2013-14).

With Mayo back to patrol the paint, veteran scorers like Isaac McGlone and Jaylen Babb-Harrison manning the perimeter and slew of talented newcomers thrown into the mix, McHale has the Colonels ready to build off last season’s success and poised to compete for OVC titles for years to come.

Below is a position-by-position look at the 2016-17 Colonels.

Guards

McGlone enters the season as the undisputed leader of the EKU backcourt. The senior from Lancaster, Ohio started all but one game last season and ranked eighth in the OVC in three-point shooting percentage (40.6%). However, he averaged less than five points-per-game. McHale expects that to change this year.

“Isaac’s role will be much more expanded this season,” McHale said. “He has been the ultimate team guy in the past, but I think he has the ability to score the ball very well, and he’s going to look to get between 13-15 points a night.”

McHale expects his senior leader to bring more than points to the table, though.

“I’m also going to lean on Isaac – with so many young guys – to be the calming influence on this team.”

EKU’s only other returning guard with significant game experience – sophomore Dujuanta Weaver – is out for the season with an injury, meaning several new faces will have the opportunity to earn minutes in the backcourt right out of the gate.

“Losing Tay hurts because he was the backbone of our backcourt, from a defensive standpoint,” McHale said. “But, we need to step up, and I have challenged some guys to do so.”

One of those guys is freshman Asante Gist, who played his senior season of high school for legendary coach Bobby Hurley Sr. at St. Anthony in New Jersey.

“Astante is a very talented player and he has that “it” factor,” McHale said. “He’s said he’s not going to let this team lose, and I love that mentality. For a freshman to assume that role … it’s going to make me a good coach for years to come.”

Gist did not lose much in high school. He led St. Anthony to a 32-0 record as a senior, and he became the first player ever to win two New Jersey Tournament of Champions titles with two different schools.

Gist has already carved out a starting spot at point guard, and he led EKU with 22 points, five assists and only two turnovers in the Colonels’ exhibition win over Georgetown College on November 6.

Another freshman, Parker Chitty, is also expected to make an immediate impact in the Colonel backcourt. Chitty is the son of a high school head coach from Columbus, Indiana, and McHale said he has had a very good preseason.

“Parker plays with a lot of energy and emotion, and the team feeds off that,” McHale said. “But, he’s also a really good player. He’s tough, he can run an offense and he can shoot it.”

In EKU’s second Maroon-White scrimmage of the preseason, Chitty knocked down a game-high four three-pointers to finish with 12 points.

Another shooter McHale plans to bring off the bench is junior Dillon Avare, a transfer from Louisville. Avare connected on a pair of triples in the exhibition win over Georgetown College, and McHale thinks that will be a trend all season long.

“Dillon is as good a shooter as we have on this team, and that’s saying a lot with the numbers Jaylen and Isaac have put up in their careers.”

Wings

Last year, EKU featured several long and talented wings, and the Colonels ran much of their offense through them. This year, however, there is only one true wing on the roster and it’s the fifth-year senior, Babb-Harrison.

Babb-Harrison primarily came off the bench last season, but he flashed the ability to be a dominant offensive player. He knocked down six three-pointers and finished with 18 points at Western Kentucky. He finished with a team-best 15 points at West Virginia.

When the dust had settled at the end of the season, Babb-Harrison led the OVC in three-point field goal percentage (45.3%), the first Colonel to do so since Mike Rose in 2007-08.

This year, McHale expects Babb-Harrison to be more consistent and more well-rounded.

“Jaylen is definitely a guy – like Isaac – whose role is going to be expanded this season,” McHale said. “He can really shoot the basketball, but he’s also really worked on his whole, all-around game. He’s a really tough matchup, and I expect him to be in the top-five in the OVC in three-point shooting again.”

Forwards

EKU’s frontcourt starts with Mayo, who was voted to the Preseason All-OVC in late October.

“Nick had a tremendous freshman year, but he needs to duplicate that and then some this year,” McHale said. “He knows he’s now going to be the target of every team, so he really needs to be patient, let the points come to him and be a weapon with his passing and rebounding.”

McHale noted that Mayo added 20 pounds of muscle and improved his vertical leap in the offseason, and he hopes that leads to more rebounds.

In fact, McHale expects EKU to be a much better rebounding team in general this season.

“Last year, we pretty much played with four guards on the court,” he said. “And that wasn’t fair to Nick.”

This season, Mayo will have some help in the paint, and that help begins with 6-8 junior college transfer Zach Charles.

“Zach Charles is as good a rebounder as I’ve been around in a long time,” McHale said. “He has a knack for it. He’s long. And he’s very quick off his feet. He’ll help from a defensive standpoint and from an energy standpoint. He plays so hard and he’s so active that he creates a lot of offensive off his defense. Zach is going to have a huge year for us at the power forward spot.”

Three freshmen are also expected to play roles at the forward position: DeAndre Dishman, Marlon Adams and Lachlan Anderson.

“DeAndre Dishman has a great, college-ready body, and he also has that knack for rebounding – long arms, quick, athletic.” McHale said.

“Marlon Adams is built like a linebacker,” he added. “And good things happen when he’s on the floor. He plays so hard, and he’s a guy who’s going to get better and better as the year goes on.”

“Lachlan Anderson still needs to put on some weight,” McHale said. “But he’s a stretch four who will eventually be a threat from the perimeter. He has a lot of upside.”

Schedule

When McHale released the Colonels’ schedule in mid-August, he called it the toughest non-conference schedule EKU had seen in the last 20 years.

Mid-major powers such as UNC Wilmington, Western Kentucky and Marshall will visit McBrayer Arena this season. The Colonels will go on the road to face power-five schools such as Auburn, Texas Tech and Louisville.

“I’m looking at it as two different seasons,” McHale said. “Once we get back from Christmas break, I’m literally going to erase the record from the board and tell the guys: ‘now the second season starts and this is the one that counts the most.’ And, I hope, by then, we’ve learned from the rigors of the tough schedule and got better because of it. Our freshmen are going to have to grow quickly this season. I have 10 eligible guys, and five of them are freshmen.”

From EKU Athletics


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