Coaches around the Big Sky Conference believe experienced, talent-stocked Eastern Washington has the means to clear a hurdle that’s tripped the Eagles the last two seasons: The Big Sky Tournament championship game.
So does EWU. Now it’s eager to prove it.
EWU, picked first in the Big Sky preseason coaches poll, returns two of the league’s premier players in forward Mason Peatling, guard Jacob Davison and a rising talent in explosive swingman Kim Aiken Jr., an All-Big Sky Tournament team selection as a freshman last season.
Throw in veterans Jack Perry and Tyler Kidd – point guards with a combined 57 career starts – and a touted incoming freshmen class, and the preseason hype is justified.
The Eagles are aiming for the program’s third NCAA Tournament berth, the previous two trips coming in 2015 and 2004.
“The last couple of years we’ve been lucky enough to get to the championship game but lost to Montana both times,” EWU head coach Shantay Legans said. “The players think that a lot, and I’ve thought about that all the time.
“We just have to get better, and that come tournament time we have the depth to get back.”
Before Davison, an All-Big Sky talent, went down with a late-season injury that sidelined him for last year’s Big Sky Tournament, the spring-heeled junior averaged 24 points in a nine-game Big Sky stretch.
He looks even better this year, Legans said, and will complemented by a pair of experienced distributors in Kidd and Perry.
“I think I’ve improved my game since the injury, but mentality is the same,” Davison said.
Legans is also high on true freshman point guard Ellis Magnuson, a Boise product who was the USA Today Idaho Player of the Year after leading Borah High to a 5A state title.
Peatling (15 ppg, 7 rpg), a 6-foot-8 senior who is both physical inside and a capable shooter, missed 12 games last season and still earned All-Big Sky distinction the previous two seasons.
Leadership is also one of Peatling’s biggest assets, and he’ll help lead a young group of big men who will be counted on to provide depth to the Eagles’ frontcourt.
“I got to spend a lot of time with the younger guys this summer to help get them up to speed,” Peatling said. “And I was healthy, so I got to work a lot on my individual game.”
Shadle Park product Tanner Groves appeared in 28 games as a redshirt freshman last season and helped spell the Eagles’ senior big men. His role is expected to increase, and fellow 6-8 forward and true freshman Abdullah Mohamed also brings a big body to the guard-heavy Eagles.
The Eagles’ depth at guard could be boosted by Steven Beo – if he’s healthy.
Beo played as a true freshman at BYU before sitting out the 2017-2018 season due to NCAA transfers. He missed all but three games last season due to a knee injury.
He’s “awesome” when healthy, Legans said of Beo, who once led the state of Washington in scoring (27.7 ppg) at Richland High.
True freshmen Steele Venters (Ellensburg) and Jacob Groves (Shadle Park) – both 6-7 shooters – could also see the floor in their first year of college baskeball.
Despite suffering a slew of injuries last season, Legans had EWU playing its best basketball for the second straight year.
Legans and his 3-pointer-heavy squad are a combined 29-15 against Big Sky foes the last two seasons,
A former California Bear and Fresno State Bulldog point guard, Legans can etch his name into EWU lore if the Eagles live up to lofty preseason expectations.
If the Eagles reach the NCAA Tournament, Legans would have done it faster than any previous EWU coach.
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