Were the ‘11-12 Eagles a preview of better things to come?
Please welcome new Eagle Totem contributor Jeffrey Alderman. Alderman graduated from EMU in 1989 with a degree in written communications and is a former sports writer for The Eastern Echo.
To be sure, it had to end sometime, and while few seriously envisioned a MAC Tournament championship; after treating us to a charmed conference season, culminating in EMU’s first-ever West Division title, this past Monday left a few of us scratching our heads.
On the same glorious day that Coach Rob Murphy was deservedly named the Mid-American Conference Men’s Basketball Coach of the Year, the Eagles inexplicably crash landed by losing 55-52 to #12 seed Northern Illinois at what had been the friendly confines of the Convocation Center. Yes, this was the same NIU squad that recorded a grand total of four wins for the entire season and was swept by EMU in their two previous meetings.
The odd (football) half-time score of 18-11 was certainly indicative of numerous EMU games this past year and while you anticipated a second half comeback, the game never materialized into something which resembled a classic Eagles outcome. Thankfully or puzzlingly depending how you look at it, less than 1,000 fans were in attendance to witness the disappointing setback.
And so, while the success of the 2011-12 Eagles won’t soon draw any comparisons to the Earl Boykins glory years, we can all bask in memories of a team that overachieved and got as much out of their collective talents as humanly possible.
That said, can we start to feel like this is the beginning of a long overdue revival of EMU basketball? Or was this season, highlighted by six victories of three points or less against one of the weakest divisions in D-1, just fool’s gold?
Coach Murphy’s dynamic defensive schemes and his ability to extract so much heart and hustle from his players will continue to keep them competitive in conference play. If this program is going to move up to the next level, however, it will have to radically improve on its offensive consistency. Looking at the numbers, it’s an environmental disaster that will require some serious clean-up.
With 347 schools competing in division one basketball, it’s hard to fathom that the Eagles won anything as they ranked 342nd in points per game, 341st in field goal percentage, and 335th in assists. As a bonus, the boys from Ypsi rebounded enough to finish 308th in the country.
Looking towards next season, they’ll have to replace arguably the two best players in guards Darrell Lampley and Antonio Green.
A decent nucleus of G Derek Thompson, G J.R. Sims, F Jamell Harris, and C Da’Shonte Riley return, but they all need to develop better range away from the basket as well as get stronger in the weight room.
Added to this mix will be Wyoming transfer Daylen Harrison, a solidly built 6-6 combo guard-forward who can play with his back to the rim. Harrison will be joined by former Oak Hill standout and Arkansas transfer Glenn Bryant who is a wispy 6-7 forward with great verticality and who promises to be a great lane defender.
Heralded Romulus High School recruit G Ray Lee is a very talented, yet complicated young man who will hopfully benefit from Coach Murphy’s tutelage.
EMU has also received a verbal commitment from Jalen Ross (not to be confused with Jalen Rose), a super quick 5’ 11” point guard form Greensboro Day School in North Carolina and blogs are speculating the Eagles are still on the recruiting trail for a small forward including following the progress of talented Lansing Eastern guard Frederick Edmond.
This season was a wonderful culmination of hard work and dedication by the coaching staff and the players and they should be congratulated for bringing a championship banner to hang from the rafters.
All things considered, the expected rate of improvement for this incoming group should help reestablish the Eagles as among the MAC’s best next season and beyond.