Monday, October 22, 2007


Hoops Preview

In case you missed it, nice story in Sunday's SR about the men's basketball team as it embarks on a new era after a most interesting off season.

Here it is. start something big.


Eagles speak same language on court
Earlywine ready to lead diverse mix of talent

Steve Bergum
Staff writer
October 21, 2007

With Rodney Stuckey having taken his considerable talents to the NBA and only two other players returning from last year's active roster, Eastern Washington's Kellen Williams figured things would seem a bit strange once basketball practice kicked into gear this fall.

But even Williams, a 6-foot-4 senior forward and the sole returning starter for first-year head coach Kirk Earlywine's Eagles, couldn't have imagined how much the winter of upheaval would change the EWU program.

"It's been kind of different not having Rodney around," Williams said of Stuckey, who was a first-round pick by the Detroit Pistons following a stellar sophomore year in which he averaged 24.6 points per game. "But the strangest thing, when I'm out on the court now, is hearing all the different languages.

"The Serbians are talkin,' the New York guys are talkin' Spanish. … I mean, I know a little Spanish, but it's still strange."

Yes, things have changed dramatically at Eastern since Earlywine's predecessor, Mike Burns, was fired last spring following a disappointing 15-14 season and some well-documented compliance issues that landed the program in the crosshairs of an ongoing NCAA investigation. Graduation losses, coupled with Stuckey's decision to turn pro and several defections, left Earlywine – who was hired in mid-June – scrambling to find replacements.

And a roster once built primarily of in-state players has become wildly diverse, geographically speaking.

Along with Williams, who prepped at Seattle's Franklin High School, the Eagles boast five other in-state recruits on this year's roster, including sophomore center Brandon Moore and senior guard Marcus Hinton – the other two returnees from last season.

But included in this year's mix are two players from New York, who were both born in the Dominican Republic, a Canadian native who played his high school and junior college basketball in Florida, a freshman recruit from Stockton, Calif., a Texas Tech transfer from Omaha, Neb., and two Serbians.

Earlywine, who spent seven seasons as an assistant at Weber State before serving in that same capacity at North Carolina Wilmington last winter, said such geographical diversity was not part of his original plan.

"I'm hoping it returns to like it was when Coach (Ray) Giacolletti was here and we have the Alvin Snows, the Brendon Merritts, the Marc Axtons and Matt Nelsons, right down the line," he said. "And I think we can do that.

"Unfortunately, by the time I got the job here this summer, I don't think there was a Division-I caliber player available that had any Washington ties."

So for the time being, Earlywine will try to produce some on-court magic with players from all over the world.

"It's still a little too early to tell exactly how good we are or how well the pieces are going to fit together," he said. "But I really like the makeup of our team, in terms of character."

Earlywine said he passed on what he considered a couple of "All-Big Sky Conference-caliber" recruits because "I didn't feel they were the type of character I wanted, or that they were as committed to academics as I was going to insist they be."

"Going into my 23rd year (of coaching) now, I don't want to wake up every morning and dread going to practice because there's somebody there I don't want to see," Earlywine added. "The 14 guys in our program right now I love being around off the floor, and I enjoy coaching them.

"There are enough talented kids out there that you can get good players who aren't knuckleheads."

Chemistry and leadership problems remain, however, even though Williams – who was appointed by Earlywine as this year's team captain – insists he has been waiting to take charge since he first arrived as a transfer from Highline Community College in the fall of 2004.

"I've been ready to accept this since my sophomore year here," Williams said. "I'm just going to get in everybody's ear and try to help everybody out as much as I can."

Still, Williams admits he is can only advise his teammates on what to expect facing D-I competition. He still has no idea, he said, what Earlywine and his staff will demand.

"It's been weird, even for me, not knowing what's coming next," Williams said. "People have been asking me in practice what we're going to do next, and I say, 'Uh, I really don't know.'

"With a new coach, everything is new, and I don't know how he's going to handle certain situations, so… "

Earlywine recognizes the uncertainty facing Williams, but insists his captain has been "terrific."

"It's been difficult for him, I know," Earlywine said. "A year from now, in practices, the 10 returning guys can pull a new guy aside and say, 'Hey, this is what he's looking for, this is what he wants and this is how we've got to do it.' "

One of Earlywine's new guys is Serbian Milan Stanojevic, a much-traveled guard who spent his freshman year at Dixie State College in Utah before transferring to Northwest Junior College in Powell, Wyo., where he averaged 17.8 points as a sophomore last winter.

Stanojevic, a 6-2, 195-pounder who shot 47 percent (118 for 251) from 3-point range last season, would like to think that he can eventually step up and help Williams with the leadership duties he has inherited.

"I was like captain in Serbia my whole life playing there, at all levels," he said. "But it's kind of difficult here, because of the language."

To which Williams says, "Amen!"

"Milan is a good leader," Williams said, "but he keeps blurting out commands in Serbian, and nobody gets it."

Earlywine is hoping that will change by Nov. 9, when the Eagles open their season against Washington State in Pullman.

"Realistically, I don't think there's any way we can be completely prepared to the extent I would want to by the time we play Washington State," he said. "We have to be completely prepared, though, by the time we start the conference season.

"Hopefully, the work capacity and character of our team can shorten the learning process, but I just don't know."

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