Despite change, expectations high for men's hoops
2014-15 record: 21-15 (10-11 in MAC) including postseason play
Coach: Rob Murphy, fifth year (73-65)
Eastern Michigan University men’s basketball coach Rob Murphy’s fifth season will get underway on Friday Nov. 13 against the University of Vermont after finishing last season with a loss in the third round of the Mid-American Conference to the University of Toledo.
The Eagles are transitioning after losing seven players from last season including starters Mike Talley and Karrington Ward. Murphy has brought in eight new players for this upcoming season.
“We lost Karrington Ward and Mike Talley and to have six new faces makes it tough but I think the guys we’ve brought in are working hard and together,” Murphy said. “We’re trying to find ourselves.”
The Eagles were selected to finish fourth in the Mid-American Conference West Division in the MAC Preseason Polls and redshirt junior Raven Lee was selected onto the MAC West Division Preseason All-MAC Team.
Probable Starting Lineup:
PG: Ethan Alvano (3.4 ppg) / Ty Toney (17.8 ppg at Georgia Highlands)
SG: Ray Lee (16.7 ppg)
SF: Tim Bond (6.4 ppg)
PF: Brandon Nazione (3.6 ppg)
C: James Thompson (24 ppg in HS)
Who will start at center?
Last season the Eagles ran a platoon-type situation that included Mike Samuels, Jerome Hunter and Olalekan Ajayi. After the season all three left the team, leaving Murphy forced to find a replacement. That replacement came with 6’10” freshman James Thompson.
“As good as James is, he’s still a freshman,” Murphy said. “He’s a high level talent and I think he has all the capabilities to be a great player by the time he leaves Eastern Michigan.”
Thompson averaged 24 points, 15 rebounds and three blocks per game as a senior at Parkview Baptist High School in Baton Rouge, LA.
“As good as he is, we need to be patient with him and there's a lot that will be resting on his shoulders because he's our best option there and he’ll be our starter there,” Murphy said.
How will Lee live up to expectations
With the announcement of Eastern Michigan guard Raven Lee’s inclusion on the MAC West preseason team, there is new pressure to live up to the title for someone who has had brilliant games but also has been inconsistent.
“Ray just needs to be consistent on both sides of the floor,” Murphy said. “I think he’s one of the best scorers in the state of Michigan.”
Lee averaged 16.7 points per game and joined EMU’s 1000 point club last season.
“It’s hard to stay in front of Ray Lee and it’s really hard to stop him,” Murphy said. “He’s gotten better shooting the ball and also how to make plays for others. If he puts it all together, he can be a potential [MAC] player of the year.”
The Price is Right?
Going into last season, Eastern Michigan forward Jodan Price came into the program with high praise of his three point ability. However, Price struggled to find his shot throughout the season hitting only 37 of his 135 attempts three point attempts.
“With him it’s just confidence,” Murphy said. “Jodan has been a shooter all his life. When you hit that wall, it takes some guys time to get out of that funk.”
Before Price transferred to EMU in 2014, he played at DePaul University. Price was ranked on ESPN.com’s list of top 25 three-point shooters to watch of the class of 2012 coming out of high school.
“Over the summer, he continued to shoot," Murphy said. “He’s lifted a little more weights, he’s a little bigger, a little stronger and more confident.”
“Going into the season, he should be one of our better shooters,” Murphy said. “Outside of Ray Lee, he’s the next guy we’re depending to hit shots. He will play a huge role in what we’re trying doing this year.”
Versatility of Tim Bond
Last season, true freshman point guard Tim Bond missed the entire non-conference part of the season with a broken hand but returned when conference play started and contributed 22.5 minutes per game. This season, Rob Murphy has a new plan for the sophomore.
“He’ll probably start at the three,” Murphy said. “He’s so versatile but we wanted him to focus on being our small forward.”
Bond averaged 6.4 points per game last season as a point guard.
Leading the point
With the graduation of Mike Talley, the Eagles will be looking at a fresh face to lead at the point guard position. Last season, true freshman Ethan Alvano started the season as the starting point guard over the senior Talley but once the Mid-American Conference season started he was pushed into a bench role.
“Ethan had and up and down year but the thing he did for us, which I appreciated, was stay consistent defensively,” Murphy said. “He just has to remain confident in himself, keep believing because we believe in him.”
Besides Alvano, Rob Murphy brought in junior college transfer Ty Toney who Murphy noted as “really steady and strong.” “His size at the top of the zone should really help us,” Murphy said.
Murphy said both are currently competing for the starting role going into the season.
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