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Eastern Washington University Basketball

Up jumps Boogie: Graduate transfer Linton Acliese III rounding into key contributor for Eagles

EWU’s Linton Acliese III  (Geoff Crimmins/FOR THE SPOKESMAN-REVIEW)
By Dan Thompson For The Spokesman-Review

Linton Acliese III spent much of the summer of 2021 in the gymnasium, preparing to have a player-of-the-year type of season at San Francisco State.

But then he started to think about what it might be like to play his final season of eligibility at a Division I program.

“Coming out of junior college, I had the opportunity to go Division I, but academically it didn’t work out,” Acliese said.

He’d had a first-team, all-conference season at San Francisco State, a Division II program in the California Collegiate Athletic Association. Even though it was early August, Acliese figured it was worth a try, so he put his name in the transfer portal.

“I felt like I had more in me and I could play at a higher level,” he said.

As it turns out, he did and he could. This week, Acliese was named the Big Sky Player of the Week for the Eastern Washington Eagles (8-6, 2-1 Big Sky), who host Montana (10-5, 3-1) on Thursday in their fourth conference game of the season.

Acliese, a graduate transfer who joined the Eagles on his 23rd birthday, Aug. 13, is coming off a season-high 30-point effort against Northern Arizona last week, boosting his scoring average this year to 15.8. That ranks second on the team behind redshirt freshman Steele Venters (17.3) and makes Acliese one of five Eagles players averaging at least 9.4 points per game.

The 6-foot-6 forward also leads the Eagles in rebounding (7.2 per game) and field-goal percentage (52.5) and has made 82.5% of his free-throw attempts.

Eagles coach David Riley said that he told the team after Tuesday’s practice how it was great that Acliese – known by the nickname “Boogie” – was going to be named the conference’s player of the week that day, the first Eagles player to earn that distinction this season.

But that individual recognition, Riley said, is a testament to the merits of a team-oriented system that all of the players have accepted as the best way to win basketball games.

“We have a system that, one week it’s going to be Boogie, the next week (it could be) Steele, the next week (Angelo Allegri), Mason (Landdeck), Rylan (Bergersen),” Riley said, listing off some of the team’s top scorers.

When asked about the award, Acliese was quick to deflect the credit to the work of his teammates.

“We got some guys. We got some guys, man,” he said. “One through five, we can all go, and for teams to not really have any scout on us, to not know how to play us, I think that is a major disadvantage to other teams.”

No doubt that is going to become less and less of a disadvantage as the season goes on and the Eagles play more, but for now teams have had to rely more on their understanding of the system Eastern runs than their experience against individual players. From last year’s NCAA Tournament team, the returner with the highest scoring average is sophomore Ellis Magnuson (3.6).

But the Eagles, who brought in a handful of transfers as well as a new slate of freshman recruits, have ably compensated from a production standpoint. They rank third in the Big Sky in scoring offense at 75.9 points per game, just shy of their full-season average last year (78.3).

A big part of that success is due to Acliese, whose primary recruiting influence was assistant coach Mark Darnall. Before this season, Darnall was an assistant at Chico State, which plays in the same conference as San Francisco State, so the two were somewhat familiar with each other.

But Acliese has also been important to the team because of his upbeat personality, Allegri said.

“I think that’s a really strong trait of his is being able to just be positive and play freely,” said Allegri, also a new transfer. “That mindset is contagious for us.”

Before every practice, Acliese said he tells his teammates to enjoy being there in the gym together.

“This is my last year, and I’ve been having fun with all this,” he said. “I’m just embracing everything. I’m reminding guys every single day to remember why we’re doing this. Remember that it’s fun.”

Certainly, the Eagles have had their share of adversity, Allegri said.

Heading into this week’s two games in Cheney, the Eagles have played just three home games, including a loss to preseason Big Sky favorite Southern Utah. Last weekend, they left town with just eight available players, the rest unavailable due to COVID-19 protocols.

But they won both games, first at Portland State and then at Northern Arizona, getting back over .500 in Big Sky play.

“We’re in a great spot,” Riley said. “To be contending for a championship, you’ve got to win every home game and split every road trip. Us getting this sweep, we’re back where we need to be.”

Like the other newcomers, Acliese said he came to Cheney because he wanted a chance to win games at the Division I level. There was no promise of playing time, he said, just a promise that he would have the opportunity to compete.

By coming in and demonstrating such a hard-hat attitude, Allegri said, Acliese has set an important example for his teammates: that even if they are having a bad day, there is joy in playing basketball together.

“Every day, he comes in with a smile on his face. He’s happy,” Allegri said. “Being around a guy like that makes everybody raise their level and brings happiness to the team, which is a really big part of being successful.”