‘Versatile’ Eagles start 2017 season on Saturday

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A stellar backcourt with an embarrassment of riches anchors what the FGCU men’s basketball team is saying might be their most talented team yet.

Yes, better than last year’s 26-8 team which won their first outright Atlantic Sun title en route to their second consecutive NCAA Tournament.

“Talent wise it’s definitely the best, but right now we’re a little rough around the edges because we haven’t played with each other right now,” said senior guard and four-year starter Christian Terrell. “Once we get some chemistry there’s no telling how good we’re going to be.”

The dialing in has to come from the front court, the Eagles lost forwards Demetris Morant and Marc-Eddy Norelia to graduation, and defensive specialist Kevin Mickle transferred after completing his degree.

But the Eagles add transfers including Ricky Doyle, the Bishop Verot graduate who returned home from Michigan, and junior college transfer Brady Ernst. They’ll also get Miami transfer Michael Gilmore once he becomes eligible at the end of the fall semester – which is a snag thanks to Hurricane Irma extending the fall term to Dec. 22. Eagles coach Joe Dooley said they’re appealing to the NCAA to have him available a week earlier as the semester was originally slated.

“I would think that’s a pretty extenuating circumstance,” Dooley said. “But I don’t speculate on anything they do.”

The Eagles play Wichita State on Dec. 22. If the appeal is approved, Gilmore would be eligible starting with Oral Roberts on Dec. 16.

Last year’s Eagles were second in the nation in points in the paint, thanks in part to Norelia and Morant, and the sixth best team in the nation from the field, but rapidly cooled from behind the arc. While they connected on 55.3 percent of their two-point attempts according to KenPom, they were 230th in the nation from three, hitting a pedestrian 33.7 percent.

“We want to shoot more threes. We want to shoot more threes and make more threes and that’s been a big emphasis for us,” Dooley said.

Now there appears to be a little more to fear from beyond the arc, as nearly every player on the floor could be a threat to shoot when left open. That includes Doyle and returning center Antravious Simmons, who multiple teammates said has vastly improved from distance. Add in sophomore Raysean Scott Jr., who is a game-time decision with a knee injury, and the talk is that FGCU could be stretching the floor a lot more this season.

That’s good news for Terrell, who often had defenders inside his shirt any time he was near the three-point line.

“They definitely can’t jump out on me because we have so many shooters out there,” Terrell said. “But it opens the floor up for everybody, there’s so much more room when everybody can shoot and knock them down at the three-point line.”

Versatility seems to be a key word around the Eagles program this year. Dooley raved about the depth the Eagles have, especially among the guards as behind the triumvirate of ASUN preseason player of the year Brandon Goodwin, redshirt junior Zach Johnson, and Terrell, the Eagles added junior college transfer Dinero Mercurius, and the small but speedy Darnell Rogers. Then there’s sophomore Christian Carlyle who has “made a big jump” this summer.

With so many players seeking minutes, Dooley expects to have a wide array of lineups to use depending on matchups. Four guard lineups, three point guards on the floor at once, sure, but Goodwin playing shooting guard?

“It’s really like positionless basketball with us,” Goodwin said. “We have guards that can play one through four at times, especially in conference because that’s when teams play a little smaller. We’ll experiment throughout the season how we’re going to set our lineups.”

Goodwin seemed especially excited about the prospects of running the floor — even with the big men.

“Ricky can step out from the five spot and shoot the three, we have a couple guys that can shoot from the four spot and do the same exact things, pass in and out of the post, rebound and run the floor which is a lot of what we need because our guards like to get out and push the ball. To have a big man that can sprint up the floor ahead of everybody else is a game changer.”

The season starts with a strong test right out of the gate in Illinois State. The Redbirds earned a share of the Missouri Valley Conference regular-season title last season, and lost to Wichita State in the finals of their conference tournament.

But even though they lost their top three scorers from last season, Illinois State looked to still have plenty of firepower in a 79-52 win over Lewis in an exhibition game, with Malik Yarbrough scoring 25 points, and William Tinsley going 5-of-7 from three for a 17 point night.

“I feel like when you lose scorers you have other guys who can step into that role so they’ll be the same type of team,” Goodwin said.

FGCU vs. Illinois State
Saturday, 1 p.m.
Alico Arena, Fort Myers
Tickets: FGCUTickets.com; 239-590-7145

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