FORT MYERS, Fla. - After FGCU went through its first season in Division I with seven seniors, the Eagles will be forced to take a totally different approach this season. The Eagles lost four starters and 11 of 13 players from last years roster.
Gone are nine of the top 10 scores from a year ago, leaving senior sharp-shooter Delvin Franklin as the only returning starter. 86% of the scoring and 94% of the rebounding have moved on, leaving Head Coach Dave Balza with one of the most inexperienced teams in the country.
Despite bringing in a new roster, the Eagles are optimistic about improving on their first tour through the Atlantic Sun. The Eagles have brought a mixture of athleticism and size and arguably the top recruiting class in school history with a mix of talented freshman and experienced junior college transfers.
The spot vacated by Rob Quaintance will be one of the best competitions in camp for the Eagles this year. Quaintance led the league in assists and steals while also finishing among the leaders in minutes played. The new group audditoning consists of Reggie Chambers, Addison Smith, Reed Baker and Ben Vega. Chambers is an ultra quick guard who helped lead Miami Pace to a state championship during his senior season. Chambers was named third team All-Dade County after averaging 8.1 points and 7.2 assists per contest as a senior. Chambers scored a game-high 19 points in the championship game including several clutch free-throws to secure a second straight state championship for Pace. Chambers transferred to Pace prior to his senior year from West High School in Salt Lake City, Utah. He was a second team All-State performer after averaging 14.5 points and 4.5 assists as a junior at West. Addison Smith, a freshman from Santaluces High School led his team to a district championship along with fellow freshman Anthony Banks. Smith was named 1st team All-County after his senior season. The 6-2 guard averaged just over nine points per game and nine assists per contest. Vega will bring experience to the group after transferring in from Gulf Coast Community College. The 5-10 Waukegan, Ill., native was named second team All-Conference in the Panhandle League, one of the premier JUCO basketball leagues in the country. He averaged 9.8 points per game and 3.4 assists per game during his sophomore season. Baker, a local product from Bishop Verot who will be a sophomore after transferring from Michigan, will see significant time at both guard positions.
Franklin, the only returning player with significant experience, averaged 9.2 points per game as a junior. The Houston, Texas, native appeared in all 31 games last season and started 19. He was one of the Atlantic Sun’s most prolific three-point specialist, drilling 1.7 treys per contest at a 36.0% clip. Both figures placed him among the league leaders. Franklin came on strong during conference play. He increased his scoring to 12.3 points per game during league play and field goal percentage to .451 while logging 32.9 minutes of action. Baker appeared in 28 games for the 22-13 Wolverines during his freshman season. He scored a career-high 19 points in his first career start against Army, drilling five three-pointers in the game. He averaged 2.5 points per game for Michigan as they advanced to the National Invitational Tournament (NIT).
After losing Casey Wohlleb, the second leading scorer in school history, the small forward position will be wide open. Ed Rolax and Derrick O’Neil will be the favorites to win the starting job. O’Neil is a 6-5 transfer from Florida Community College at Jacksonville. The native of Moreno Valley, Calif., was a 1st Team All-Conference Selection in the Panhandle league after averaging 12.9 points per game along with 8.0 rebounds. O’Neil, a tremendous athlete, can also become a defensive stopper for the Eagles as he averaged 2.8 steals per game as well. Rolax is a freshman who redshirted last season. Rolax became the first Division I signee for the Eagles in 2006. He averaged 18 points and 11 rebounds for St. Petersburg Catholic during his junior season. He was named 3rd team All-State following his junior year. As a freshman, he played for Admiral Farragut where he helped the team to a state championship. Rolax also could play the power forward position as well.
Chad Lutkenhaus and Eddie Murray could also see significant minutes at the position. Lutkenhaus appeared in 29 games as a freshman and came on strong toward the end of the season. Lutkenhaus scored a career-high nine points as he helped FGCU overcome an 18 point halftime deficit in an overtime loss at Stetson. For the year, he averaged 1.3 points per game in just under eight minutes of action. Murray is also a tremendous athlete who led Bishop Verot to a District championship. Murray averaged 8.0 points per game while pulling down 5.3 rebounds. He won numerous dunk contests while at Bishop Verot.
Kyle Marks and Anthony Banks will vie for the other starting forward spot. Both are tremendously athletic. Marks is a red-shirt junior who transferred from Nebraska. Marks, a native of West Palm Beach, Fla., helped lead Dwyer to consecutive 5A State Championships. He finished as the all-time leader in blocks at Dwyer. He was a 1st Team All-State selection following his senior season. He appeared in 34 games for Nebraska and shot over 50% from the floor during his two years as a Cornhusker. Banks comes to FGCU after earning 1st Team All-State honors in class 6A in Florida. A high school teammate of fellow freshman Addison Smith, Banks helped lead his Santaluces team to a district championship. He averaged 16.2 points and 12.2 rebounds per game during his senior season.
Christian Wolf and George Erkvania will give the Eagles a pair of skilled big men in the low post. A native of Kohler, Wis., Wolf averaged 22 points and 11 rebounds per contest as a senior for Kohler, where he played for his father Jeff. He was named 1st Team All-State Division Four and 4th team All-State in Wisconsin (all divisions) during his senior year. A four year starter for Kohler, He was a three time All-Central Lakeshore Conference selection and two time All-Area (Sheboygan, Wis.) selection. Following his senior season, he was selected to play in the Wisconsin Division four All-Star Game. Erkvania, a 6-9 native of Tbilisi, Georgia Republic, transfers to FGCU from Pensacola Junior College. Erkvania started 15 games and shot .480 from the floor. The Eagles also added Naples, Fla., native Dan Thiewes, a 6-10 265lb center to bolster the front court.
FGCU has assembled another difficult schedule as they face the national champion from the last three seasons. They open the season at defending national champion Kansas in the College Basketball Experience Classic. They return home to face North Carolina Central before hosting the final three rounds of the CBE where they will face Richmond, Bradley and Missouri-Kansas City. They conclude the first of two five-game homestands with in-state rival Florida Atlantic. FGCU then open conference play on the road when they go to Stetson. The Eagles conclude a three-game road trip with Florida, who had won back-to-back national championships in 2006 and 2007. After the A-Sun home opener against Campbell, the Eagles embark on a rigorous road trip which includes mid-major power Butler and Big 10 foe Michigan. The heart of the conference schedule begins at the turn of the year when they visit Lipscomb and three-time defending league champion Belmont. The Eagles entertain five A-Sun foes in a row in the friendly confines of Alico Arena from January 24 through February 2. FGCU gets league favorites Belmont and Jacksonville during that span. The Eagles wrap up the year with a three game road trip at UNF, Jacksonville and Campbell.