Three months ago, the rest of the Big Sky Conference didn’t know what to expect from Jacob Wiley.
And Wiley will be the first to admit it: neither did he.
How would the kid from tiny Newport, Washington, handle the jump from NAIA to Division I basketball, all while trying to fill the shoes of Eastern Washington’s all-time leading scorer, Venky Jois?
“I really was skepetical how I would do,” Wiley said.
The questions were answered with exclamation points that seemed to grow bigger with every game.
By season’s end, the Big Sky coaches knew one thing: Wiley is the best player in the conference.
They made it official on Monday, naming him the Big Sky’s Most Valuable Player after a spectacular season that saw Wiley dominate the paint and lead the Eagles to 21-win season and second place in the regular season.
Along the way, the graduate transfer forward from Lewis-Clark State led the conference in scoring, rebounding, field-goal percentage and blocked shots.
“With each game that went my my confifence grew and grew,” Wiley said.
Combining with junior Bogdan Bliznyuk, a second-team selection, Wiley led the most prolific front court in the conference.
Wiley is only EWU’s third Big Sky MVP in 30 years, joining Alvin Snow (2004) and Rodney Stuckey (2006). After graduating in 2012 from Newport High School, Wiley started his college career at Montana and played two seasons at Lewis-Clark State before transferring for his senior season at EWU.
“A year ago we were wondering how we were going to replace Venky Jois – arguably the best post player who ever came through Eastern Washington,” Hayford said.
“It just shows you he’s a mature man to have this kind of success. It was a match made in heaven – if there was a guy sitting in the stands watching Jake, I have a scholarship for him if he can come do what Jake did,” Hayford said.
Wiley enters this week’s Big Sky tournament averaging 20.0 points per game overall to rank 38th in NCAA Division I and sixth in the Big Sky, and has made 63.9 percent of his shots to rank seventh in the nation and second in the league.
In league-only statistics, he averaged 24.6 points, 10.3 rebounds and 2.5 blocked shots while making 65.9 percent of field goal attempts and 81.7 of his free throws.
Numbers tell only part of the story.
“I think it’s the intangibles,” coach Jim Hayford said. “He worked so hard, the work ethic became infectious.
Bliznyuk, a junior from Lutsk, Ukraine, is averaging 26.8 points, 9.0 rebounds and 3.6 assists in his last five games entering the tournament.
Bliznyuk is in the top 10 in four statistical categories in the league, ranking fifth in points (20.1 per game), eighth in rebounds (6.5), sixth in assists (4.0) and 10th in free throw percentage (.814).
Southern Utah’s Randy Onwuasor is the only other league player to rank in the top 10 in each of those four categories. Bliznyuk ranks 37th nationally in scoring and 165th in assists.
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