EVANSVILLE, Ind. — David Ragland had a smile on his face. At long last, the University of Evansville men’s basketball Coach didn’t have to answer questions about when the schedule was coming.
His focus can fully shift to what’s happening on the hardwood. Much has been said of the Purple Aces’ increased size and athleticism compared to last season, and two instances during a recent practice session showed that. On the near side, Sekou Sada Kalle dunked over one of the team managers, whose only defense was a foam block used to initiate contact during drills. On the other end, Gabe Spinelli threw down a one-handed 360 dunk.
As the season inches closer — now 47 days from the opening tip in Oxford, Ohio — the team is starting to take its form. Wednesday marks the Missouri Valley Conference Basketball Tipoff in St. Louis, the first chance for the league’s 12 coaches and a small contingent of players to rub shoulders as they embrace for a new campaign.
First, however, Let’s hear the Aces’ thoughts on their schedule, the Chemistry brewing inside the Fifth Third Bank Practice Facility, and why a new Recruit already committed for the 2023-24 campaign.
“We’re just excited to wake people up”
Schedule Releases provide tangible proof for fans and players alike that the season is around the corner. UE made it official last Thursday after plenty of changes happened behind the scenes in recent weeks.
Many of the games are holdovers from previous contracts or make-ups for COVID-19 cancellations, which made adding new contests more difficult for the new staff. Miami (Ohio), Southeast Missouri, Central Florida, Saint Louis, Southern Methodist and Ball State were all from previously signed contracts, making Bellarmine and Campbell the only games that Ragland and his staff added.
UE men’s basketball:Breaking down the Purple Aces’ schedule game by game
They attempted to schedule home games with Coastal Carolina and Tennessee-Martin as well but couldn’t make it work. Talks are ongoing already for future seasons.
“It’s gonna be challenging for us from top to bottom through our schedule,” Ragland said. “It’s gonna be challenging but it’s gonna be fun. You get a chance to see what we’re made of and that’s what it’s all about.”
Blaise Beauchamp and Alabama State transfer Kenny Strawbridge Jr. both highlighted the game at Saint Louis as one to look forward to given the Billikens’ preseason hype as a potential Top 25 team. Beauchamp also mentioned SMU and UCF as potential Payback games. Strawbridge, who is from Rockford, Illinois, is looking forward to playing teams from his home state because he’ll have a “chip on my shoulder.”
Everyone is ready for the wait to be over. After finishing bottom of the MVC last season, many have already predicted UE to end up there again, which gives added motivation to the players.
“We’ve got a tough non-conference schedule and we’re excited for the season,” Strawbridge said. “We’re just excited to wake people up.”
UE has named team Captains as players go from Strangers to Brothers
Ragland has preached about his team needing to come together and how his players have risen to that challenge.
“We were all strangers and learned each other. We have some shared adversity and different situations that takes them from being complete strangers to looking like a team,” he said. “Are we going to decide to continue to band together through shared adversity and become a family or band of brothers? Or are we gonna separate and do our own thing?
“So far, so good. You see the relationships growing.”
That has been a large part of Ragland’s focus. Good teams can be close on the court and go their separate ways after games and practices, “but special teams, Final Four teams, teams that cut down nets and make serious runs, we were connected on a whole different level,” he said. Both the on- and off-court growth have been apparent.
“It’s really a whole brand new group, so it’s been Tricky but the people that have been here last year, the past few years are able to tell me what’s all going on,” Strawbridge Jr. said. “Everybody’s been teaching me the ways and it’s been good so far.”
More on UE basketball recruiting:University of Evansville men’s basketball offers Scholarship to local eighth graders
Of course, the summer coaching change still looms over the program. Ragland has rejuvenated some interest in the team and made changes he hopes will lead to success.
“(The new staff is) definitely more intense; they stay on you,” Beauchamp said. “Nothing to take away from the last guys, but they are definitely a little more interactive when it comes to that and make sure we’re in here all the time.”
UE announced last month Trey Hall had left the program to focus on his academics, opening another Scholarship spot.
Instead of holding for a potential midseason transfer, UE officially gave it to one of the players already in the gym. Former walk-on Gage Bobe was placed on an Athletic scholarship. Ragland was quick to clarify it wasn’t a gift. They said Bobe earned it.
Bobe also is of three Aces who were named as captains, the others being UNLV transfer Marvin Coleman and Antoine Smith Jr.
“Our time with Gage has been great,” Ragland said. “Nothing in life is given. It’s nothing that we just gave him. They earned it. He shows up every day, he works at his game, he’s great with his teammates, (we) felt like he’s great in the community.”
The Aces received a new commitment on Monday
UE Hosted and offered Scholarships to Albuquerque Prep 2023 big man Michael Day and 2024 Sharpshooter Dylan Chavez during their official visits over the weekend.
And now Day has already committed
“I committed to UE so quickly because it was the perfect fit for me,” Day said. “Love all the coaches, it has great academics, facilities are amazing, love the community around UE, the culture Coach Rags and the rest of staff is bringing is amazing. … UE just Hired a brand new coaching staff that is going to turn the program around and I’d love to be a part of that.”
UE was his first Division I offer, but he had spoken to more than 20 other programs and held an offer from Snow College, a prominent junior college in Utah.
The pair are the latest to make the trip to Evansville, joining Butler County’s Ty Price, Webster Groves’ Gianni Ferentinos, Helfrich Park Middle School’s Jaylan Mitchell and Sunrise Christian’s five-star prospect John Bol.
Chavez holds offers from Fresno State, Weber State, Montana State and JUCO Western New Mexico and has visited PAC-12 and Mountain West programs as well.
Of course, UE coaches are not permitted to talk about individual recruits until they sign, but Ragland and the staff have been out on the trail recently. Ragland went to New Mexico, California and Washington while Assistant Coach Craig Snow spent time in Florida and director of operations Roosevelt Jones was in St. Louis.
Throughout the summer, they’ve stressed the need to recruit players based on their fit within the program. They’ve said they’ll pursue five- and four-star players, but the fit is most important.
“(Recruiting) has been good. I think it’s been receptive,” Ragland said. “From across the country to overseas, with the guys that we’re recruiting, it’s exciting because we want to recruit quality. … We’re recruiting good players that are quality people.”