If Iggy does return, Aces should be MVC favorite

Marty Simmons swore he hadn’t even heard the rumors about Egidijus Mockevicius possibly considering either heading to Europe for a pro basketball career or beginning his grad school days at another university, taking advantage of the NCAA rule that allows players who earn a degree and still have playing eligibility to step into the starting lineup at another school.
But when Simmons was asked about the rumors on Friday, he said there had been no discussions with 6-foot-10 Mockevicius that would indicate he’s thinking about not coming back for his senior season with the Aces.
“I am confident he will be back next year,” said Simmons.
He went on to say that Mockevicius not only likes his teammates and the other friends he has made at UE but that he enjoys being in Evansville.
“I think our community recognizes how special he is,” said Simmons. “He’s obviously a great basketball talent but he’s a wonderful personality and he’s a wonderful person. I think he’s been great for the Evansville community and I think (the fans have) wrapped their arms around him as well. To see him play so well last night (Thursday night’s CIT championship game) was awesome.”
MocKevicius scored 27 points and had 12 rebounds against Northern Arizona to lead the Aces to a 71-65 win.
“He’s good. He’s made himself better. And that’s the great thing because I think he has another level,” said Simmons. “I think he can get even better.”
If the big Lithuanian does return, it would mean the Aces would have everyone back from a 24-win season except for Jaylon Moore, who was Mockevicius’ tag-team partner in the paint.
The 6-7 Moore was often instant offense at times for the Aces and had a knack for changing momentum in games.
Still, next season’s UE team will have more size with 7-1 Nebraska transfer Sergej Vucetic and 6-7 Willie Wiley, a transfer from Vincennes University, ready to play after sitting out as red shirts.
“Now that they know they are eligible, they are ready to go,” said Simmons. “I think Willie and Sergej will bring vast depth to our basketball team and athleticism and obviously some size. And then Harris Brown, the guard from Indianapolis, is a heck of a player and I think he’ll battle his way in there as well.
“There’s a lot of things that factor into it, staying healthy and so on and so forth. Our guys have to understand that we must continue to improve. We must get better in this offseason.”
The biggest pieces to the puzzle, of course, are D.J. Balentine and Mockevicus. Balentine averaged 20.0 points per game this past season and Mockevicius nearly averaged a double-double of 12.3 points and 9.9 rebounds. They were both first-team All-Missouri valley Conference.
That should make them the preseason favorites to win the MVC in 2016 shouldn’t it?
After all, Northern Iowa graduates 6-8 Seth Tuttle and loses four other seniors who combined for nearly 55 percent of the Panthers’ offense.
Ditto, Wichita State loses Tekele Cotton and Darius Carter and Illinois State will have to replace leading scorer Daishon Knight.

This entry was posted in College Basketball, College Sports by Randy Beard. Bookmark the permalink.

About Randy Beard

Randy Beard has been at the Courier & Press since 2007 and became the sports editor in 2012. He has previously been a sports editor at the Anderson (S.C.) Independent-Mail and the Tallahassee (Fla.) Democrat. He began his professional sports journalist career in 1976 and has spent his career primarily covering college sports in the ACC, SEC and Big Ten. He's also covered the NFL, the original North American Soccer League and professional tennis and golf. He's covered two Super Bowls, three college football national championship games, dozens of NCAA basketball tournament games, an Olympics, a World Cup and once hung out with soccer legend George Best for two days and sat in a golf cart with Jan Stephenson.

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