THE GAME CAN BE HEARD ON XM Channel 196
FORT MYERS, Fla. – The Florida Gulf Coast University men’s basketball team travels to East Lansing, Mich. to face No. 2 Michigan State to open the 2009-10 season. Tip-off is scheduled for 7:00 p.m. at the Breslin Center, and can be seen live on ESPN360.com.
This is the first meeting for FGCU and Michigan State. The second-ranked Spartans are the highest ranked opponent that the Eagles have faced in the program's history.
Over seven seasons of basketball, the Eagles are 3-4 in season openers but 3-3 when the opener has been played on the road. Last season, the Eagles faced the 2008 National champions in Lawrence, Kan. FGCU fell to No. 23 Kansas 85-45. Junior Reed Baker led the Eagles with 11 points. FGCU’s last road opening win began the 2007-08 season. The Eagles slipped by Bethune-Cookman 60-57 in their first season as a member of Division I.
The FGCU roster is young, but talented. It includes three seniors, four juniors, three sophomores, two redshirt freshman and three true freshmen. The Eagles welcome back eight letterwinners from a year ago, while four of the 15 team members are in their first year at FGCU.
Head Coach Dave Balza holds a career mark of 170-128 (.570) in ten seasons as a head coach. At FGCU, Balza boasts a 135-80 (.628) record and has led the Eagles to 20 wins in four of his seven seasons.
The Eagles four returning starters include junior guard Reed Baker (6-1, 180), sophomore guard Reggie Chambers (5-9, 155), senior forward Kyle Marks (6-5, 230) and senior forward Derrick O’Neil (6-5, 185). Sophomore guard Addison Smith (6-2, 210), sophomore forward Chad Lutkenhaus (6-5, 200), sophomore forward Ed Rolax (6-5, 215) and senior center George Erkvania (6-10, 240) are FGCU's other four returning lettermen. The Eagles return three players that started 28 or more games last season, including three of the team’s top leading scorers, two of the team’s top three three-point shooters and the squad’s leader in rebounds and blocks.
The strength of the Eagles attack lies in their backcourt. Balza’s up-tempo, hard-nosed style of play will rely heavily on both Baker and Chambers. As each enter their second season in an Eagle uniform, the two look to establish themselves as leaders on the 2009-10 squad.
Despite a year off due to NCAA transfer rules, Baker played all 31 contests and had a stellar 2008-09 season. The Naples, Fla. native started 29 games at guard. He led the Eagles in scoring, averaging 13.4 points per game, and also shot a team and A-Sun best 84.4% from the charity stripe. Baker hit 32.8% of his shots from behind the arc, and finished 12th in the A-Sun in shooting. Baker had 14 games with 10 or more points, including seven 20 point games.
Chambers, an ultra quick guard, started 17 games. He earned A-Sun All-Freshman Team honors in his first season at FGCU. Chambers played in 29 games, averaged 8.6 points per contest, and led FGCU with 81 assists. His 2.79 assists per game landed him 12th in the A-Sun in that category. He finished 12 games with 10 or more points to compliment his 17 games with three or more assists.
Off the bench, Addison Smith (6-2, 210) will play a pivotal role in the Eagles attack. Smith saw extensive playing time last season, averaging 13.5 minutes per contest. He adds great versatility off the bench as he collected 27 steals and 51 rebounds last season. Smith appeared in all but one game, making six starts in his freshman campaign. He averaged 13.5 minutes, 2.3 points, 1.3 assists and nearly one steal per contest. Smith recorded a season high four steals against Jacksonville in the season finale.
The Eagles return two senior captains in Marks and O’Neil. Both started nearly every game last season, and led FGCU in six statistical categories. Chad Lutkenhaus, Ed Rolax and George Erkvania, along with redshirts Anthony Banks and Eddie Murray will add depth to the Eagles frontline.
At 6-foot-7, Marks will be a strong force in the paint for the Eagles in 2009-10. Marks, who started in all but one game last season, led the Eagles in blocks and was tied for the team lead with 139 defensive rebounds. His 51 blocks set an FGCU single season record. The West Palm Beach, Fla. native finished second in the A-Sun with 1.65 blocks per game. The potent shot-blocker had 14 games with multiple blocks. He finished his junior season averaging just under 10 points per game, adding 5.9 rebounds per contest and shot 50.2% from the field.
While battling a hand injury he suffered early in the season, O’Neil still appeared in all 31 games, making 28 starts. He led the Eagles in total rebounding with 226 boards and steals with 48. He averaged 9.2 points and 7.3 rebounds per game. He finished fourth in the A-Sun with 2.81 offensive rebounds per game, and finished tied for eighth in defensive rebounding per game.
Lutkenhaus, a tri-captain along with Marks and O’Neil, appeared in every game last season. The junior forward from Labelle, Fla. made four starts in his second season in an Eagle uniform. He is one of the team’s best passers and screeners, last season he finished with 23 assists, 12 steals, 44 rebounds and shot 52.8 % from the field. He will play an important role off the bench for the Eagles this season.
Rolax will vie for time at the small forward position. Last season Rolax averaged nearly 14 minutes, appeared in 31 games and made one start. He scored a season high 10 points while dishing out three assists against USC Upstate as the Eagles won by a 24-point margin. Rolax finished the season averaging nearly three points, and 2.4 rebounds while shooting 42%.
George Erkvania will give the Eagles a skilled big man in the low post. Erkvania, native of Tbilisi, Georgia Republic, appeared in 22 games last season for the Eagles. He finished with 29 rebounds, 16 assists and three blocks.
Banks and Murray look to make an impact this season after redshirting last year. Banks has fully recovered from a foot injury that sidelined him for the entire 2008-09 season. Murray has worked hard in the weight room to his improve his frame. Both are very athletic and eager to see time on the court.
Coach Balza brings in four talented newcomers to the 2009-10 squad, guards Hunter Miller (6-2, 175), Brett Williams (6-3, 170) and Sherwood Brown (6-3, 185), as well asforward Charlie Lytle (6-8, 190).
Miller, a combo guard from Nashville, Tenn. will complement the Eagles backcourt. A four year starter at Christ Presbyterian Academy, he broke the Tennessee state game scoring record for a freshman when he added 44 points against conference rival Ezell Harding. Miller led the state of Tennessee in three pointers with 102, also establishing the single season record for CPA. In his junior season, Miller led CPA to a 31-4 record and their first trip to the TSSAA 2A state tournament. In his high school career, he established a new CPA record with 2,092 points, 504 assists, 236 three-pointers and 438 free throws made. Miller’s honors include three straight All District and All Region honors, District MVP and District Tournament MVP. He was selected and competed in the Tennessee Athletic Coaches Association East / West All Star game.
Williams will also be auditioning for playing time at both guard positions. The Oviedo, Fla. native started all four years at Hagerty High School. He finished his high school career just under the 2,000 point mark, totaling nearly 300 three-pointers. He earned Class 3A District 8 player of the year honors, and was named third team All-State as a sophomore. His resume also includes Class 5A All-State Honorable Mention, Class 5A District 5 Player of the Year and was chosen to play in the F.A.C.A North-South All-Star game his senior year.
Brown is especially quick, a solid defender, and can handle the ball very well. He averaged 11.4 points, 1.2 assists, 5.6 rebounds and 1.3 steals during his senior year at Olympia High School in Orlando, Fla. Brown led the Titans to the 2009 FHSAA Class 6A State Championship game.
Lytle will bring experience to the group after transferring in from Santa Fe Community College. The Clearwater, Fla., native averaged 7.3 points per game, 6.6 rebounds per game, recorded 212 total points, 190 rebounds, 44 blocks, 51 assist, 27 steals, and earned Second Team All Mid-Florida Conference honors. He will compete for time in the Eagles frontcourt.
As for Michigan State, the Spartans return three starters and 12 letterwinners from a team that finished with a 31-7 overall record and a 15-3 conference mark, capturing its fifth Big Ten title under 2009 Big Ten Coach of the Year Tom Izzo. The Spartans advanced to the Final Four for a nation's-best fifth time in the last 11 years, before falling in the national championship game to North Carolina. Izzo will look to guide MSU to back-to-back titles for the first time since he boosted the program to at least a share of four straight conference championships from 1998-2001.
The Spartans enter the season coming off two victories in exhibition games against Northwood University and Grand Valley State. Michigan State dominated in both games, outscoring their opponents by a combined score of 150-98.
Against Northwood, the Spartans' Durrell Summers led all scorers with 17 points, while junior guard Kalin Lucas poured in 16 points and played a team-high 29 minutes as Michigan State came out victorious 76-45.
Lucas led Michigan State with 18 points as the Spartans beat Grand Valley State, 76-53, on Monday night in the final exhibition contest of the season for MSU. Draymond Green posted his second double-double in as many exhibition games with 15 points and 11 rebounds.
The Eagles face the 2009 NCAA runner-up Michigan State as part of a four game road trip that takes them through three different states to start the 2009-10 season. FGCU will travel to the Lone Star State to face Prairie View A&M (Nov. 19) and SMU (Nov. 21) before making their way back to the Sunshine State to face Miami (Nov. 25) in Coral Gables, Fla.