On Thursday night, it was a the unofficial beginning of a new era of Eastern Michigan Men’s Basketball, as the Eagles played the Oakland Golden Grizzlies in a charity exhibition. It is a new era with an old twist, as new man Stan Heath last touched ground in green and white at EMU as a backup point guard for the Eagles in 1985.
In his first game as head coach, Heath saw the Eagles win 74-69 over an OU team that was without arguably their top player in Micah Parrish.
Here are some things which stood out from the charity exhibition with ticket proceeds going to the Covenant Academy.
Noah Farrakhan is for real
Noah Farrakhan is a 6’2 point guard out of New Jersey, who comes to Ypsilanti by way of East Carolina and the famed IMG Academy. As a recruit, Farrakhan was a fringe five-star recruit at one point before tailing off late in the recruiting process. Last year at ECU, he played in 12 games and averaged just three points.
That stat-line doesn’t match with what we saw on the court Thursday as Farrakhan stole the show. He was 13-of-19 for 27 points, with seven rebounds and six assists (all of which were team highs). Perhaps what was most impressive was the variety of ways in which he scored. He was one of four from three but showed the ability to drive to the basketball, hit jumpers and floaters with ease as the starting point-guard. (Note: He did leave early with injury but it looked to be of the cramp variety).
He was the best player on the court Thursday night. His performance showcased a skillset which would be make him an all-MAC candidate for an EMU team which is looking for a new identity.
Monty Scott and Colin Golson provide secondary scoring options for the Eagles
While Farrakhan stole the show with 27 points, Monty Scott wasn’t far behind with 16 points, serving as the Robin to Farrakhan’s Batman.
Scott, a Senior transfer from Portland, started 22 games last season for Portland State where he averaged 13.7 points with 5 boards per game. On Thursday, the 6’5 guard was 5-of-9 for 16 points. He got to the line often going 5-of-6 on free throws, while adding six boards. When Farrakhan left the court, Scott was able to continue the Eastern runs.
Golson, joins the Eagles as a 6’6 freshman transfer from Siena where he followed former Siena assistant Bob Simon to Ypsilanti. Simon is also an EMU alum.
Golson, a native of nearby Ferndale, Michigan, averaged 5.2 points and 3.1 points a game for Siena, while shooting an impressive 37.5 percent from three. On Thursday night, he added ten points showing a confident approach.
Having three or more capable scorers bodes well for the Eagles moving forward.
The zone is gone!
The difference between the Rob Murphy era and the new era was glaring early as the Eagles came out in man-to-man defense (something that I never saw during my time as a student at EMU). Under Murphy, the Eagles ran strictly the Syracuse 2-3 zone, and while it had its moments it became much maligned among the Eastern faithful who wanted to see a mixture of man and zone at times.
The change in defense principals should make it harder for opponents to rain down threes over the Eagles, and could lead to more universal fits for the scheme in recruiting.
The picture of the low post is less clear.
In addition to Farrakhan, Golson, and Monty Scott we also saw a lot of team captains Bryce McBride, and Darion Spottsville, two returning players. They are both guards showcasing EMU’s guard and wing depth.
The low-post positions are less defined.
Nathan Scott is a senior transfer in-conference from NIU, where he made ten starts a season ago, while average 5.4 points and 3.9 boards a game. Scott’s dad played at EMU from 1983-87, overlapping with Coach Heath. The younger Scott had four points and four boards on Thursday, while Oakland transfer Yusef Jihad saw some time in his revenge game after playing sparingly for the Golden Grizzlies a year ago.
The affable Derek Ballard Jr. showed his usual high energy approach while seven-footer Axel Okongo, a former Missouri transfer, had four rebounds.
The name to keep an eye on here might be Thomas Binelli, as the 6’10 sharp shooting Italian made his return to the court following a year lost to injury and COVID-related immigration issues. Binelli entered the transfer portal this off-season and reportedly had a chance to transfer to recent power Texas Tech before electing to return to Ypsi. He didn’t play as much as expected, which was somewhat surprising, but he didn’t miss a shot, sinking his lone fiel goal attempt, and going 2-of-2 from the stripe. He also added five boards.
If Binelli picks up where he left off when we last saw him, the fan-favorite should add another scoring option for Heath’s Eagles.
Oakland and Eastern Michigan should play every year
I will continue beating this drum, Eastern Michigan and Oakland University should play each and every year. While it is great that they agreed to do this one-off game for charity, this should be a regular season game. Outside of Detroit Mercy (while we are at it, EMU and Detroit Mercy should play each and every year as well), Oakland and EMU are the two closest division one schools to the Motor City and as mid-majors with the troubles in scheduling that mid-majors face, it just makes too much sense. Oakland’s addition to Division one hoops arguably changed the trajectory of Eastern Michigan basketball in the 1990’s and beyond.
Greg Kampe runs a strong program up in Rochester Hills (and is a great Twitter follow), with strong fan support for such a small school. Oakland’s inclusion on future schedules should provide a strong (but winnable) test for both schools. Hopefully, the scheduling of the preseason game will lead to future matchups, in season.
Also, kudos to these programs for scheduling this exhibition. It is a rarity to see two D1 programs have an open-door exhibition game. This was so much better than those “secret scrimmages”.
In conclusion, this was about as important of an exhibition game as you can have for Eastern Michigan basketball. The program largely had a lost year a season ago due to COVID and with so much change both in leadership and on the roster, no-one was sure just what this Eagle team would look like.
It’s hard to imagine a better debut for this staff and team than winning on the road against a solid program. Coach Kampe is usually bullish on his rosters but came into the game speaking highly about his squad, so any victory (exhibition, minus their best player) is cause for optimism.
A preseason look across the MAC doesn’t show many sure thing programs this year, except for maybe Buffalo. The Eagles showed enough in the exhibition victory to make me think that they can out-perform their lowly pre-season prognostications.
Other Eastern Basketball notes:
- Former Eastern wing Tim Bond was selected in the first round of the NBA’s G-League draft by the Windy City Bulls, while former head coach Rob Murphy conducted his first draft as general manager of the Motor City Cruise, selecting Ypsilanti native Jaylen Johnson with his first pick
- Former Eastern guard Ray Lee appears on the Motor City Cruise roster, re-uniting with his former head coach
- Recent EMU transfer Ty Groce did not play in Butler’s pre-season victory over Tiffin University, while nursing a minor injury. He is expected to start this season for the Butler Bulldogs.