[Editor’s note: Our preview has been updated to reflect Emoni Bate’s re-addition to the team after his suspension for legal issues was lifted, as article was written prior. Thank you for reading!]
One of the MAC’s more historic programs looks to return to the top of the league and play into March in the upcoming season, as few teams enter this coming basketball season with as much excitement as the Eastern Michigan Eagles.
The Eagles had a viral offseason highlighted by their addition of Ypsilanti native Emoni Bates and several other strong transfer additions, positioning EMU as one of the top programs in the MAC. Offseason improvements to the George Gervin GameAbove Center have improved the facility as much as the coaching staff has improved the Eagles roster as well.
There’s a lot of optimism in the air in Ypsilanti, and with good reason; there should be a lot of winning basketball played on the court in 2022-23.
Let’s examine the team in full:
Eastern Michigan struggled to a 10-21 overall mark and a 5-15 in conference mark, but there were highlights.
The Eagles welcomed Stan Heath back home after Rob Murphy left to run the Pistons’ G-League affiliate. The Eagles challenged the Indiana Hoosiers early in the season in a competitive loss, but their marquee performance for Eastern arguably came on Saturday, December 11, when they beat Florida International in front of a large crowd to honor Eastern legend George Gervin.
While the season was filled with struggles, it featured the emergence of two freshman in Noah Farrakhan and Mo Njie. Farrakahan led the team with 16.6 points per game and Njie was honored on the all-MAC freshman team.
It was an odd year a year ago, where you had a roster constructed hastily coming out of the COVID era, and featuring a change in staffs from Rob Murphy to Stan Heath. This fall and winter season will be the first roster largely with players added by Heath and his staff.
- G Monty Scott- Noah Farrakhan’s half-brother provided a 1-2 scoring punch, as a transfer from Portland State. Averaged over 10 points per game.
- G Bryce McBride- Played in 24 games with 10 starts, scoring 11.6 per game while shooting over 40 percent. He was the team’s second leading scorer and earned MAC player of the week honors in December.
- G Darion Spottsville- Steady and tough veteran guard was the only Eagle to play in every game. He led the Eagles in minutes played. Third-leading rebounder as a guard.
- F Nate Scott- The team’s most athletic dunker, and leading rebounder. He played in 30 games with 18 starts as a transfer from Northern Illinois.
- F Thomas Binelli- Italian sharpshooter never got going after injury struggles.
- C Mo Njie- All MAC as a freshman, left for SMU. He averaged 6.6 points and 5.3 rebounds. Big loss for the Eagles.
- C Axel Okongo- French 7’ footer, who transferred in from Missouri provided depth.
- G Malcolm Clements- Appeared in one game and attempted one shot.
Schedule at a glance:
Perhaps no schedule release has ever been as hyped in Eastern Michigan basketball history as this year’s, and fans were rewarded with an exciting slate.
EMU non-conference opponents went 212-193 or 196-210 a season ago, (depending on if they play Southern Miss or Wintrop in the Cancun Classic). The schedule features four programs who played post-season basketball a season ago.
After an exhibition against longtime MAC assistant Cornell Mann and Grand Valley State, Eastern will open at home against division two, Wayne State. Eastern will then have their showcase game on Nov. 11 at Little Caesars Arena in Detroit against the University of Michigan for a nationally televised game. Michigan returns national player of the year candidate Hunter Dickinson and was an elite eight team a year ago. The last time Eastern played Michigan, they won.
After an matchup with a historically strong Bradley program, EMU will travel to Rochester and the O’Rena to rekindle their rivalry with Greg Kampe’s Oakland Golden Grizzlies. A strong regional matchup, the programs have not met officially since 2017-18, when they had a home-and-home series (though they had a charity exhibition last fall). The inability to meet every year was much to the chagrin of former head coach Rob Murphy.
Eastern will then travel to Cancun for the Cancun Challenge to face Purdue Fort Wayne and either Wintrop or Southern Miss. The Eagles will return home to face UC San Diego before making the trip to Miami to repay Florida International for their visit to Ypsilanti on George Gervin Day.
The Eagles will then host the Florida Atlantic Owls, before road matches with the typically strong, Illinois State and Niagara before hosting another regional rival in Detroit Mercy. UDM features guard Antonie Daivs, who might be the best player that EMU faces (No disrespect to Sincere Carry or Hunter Dickinson). Davis is the all-time leading scorer for the Titans and averaged 23.9 points per game last season.
Eastern then wraps up their non-conference schedule with a game at South Carolina, in a matchup which could feature Emoni Bates against star Gamecock freshman, GG Jackson.
EMU opens MAC play after New Year’s by hosting Bowling Green, on January 3rd. They travel to defending league champion Akron on January 14 before hosting Sincere Carry, on January 17. Eastern has matchups with defending regular season champion Toledo on January 24 and February 11.
Roster at a glance:
First off, lets address the elephant in the room.
Emoni Bates, 6’10, So. is the highest pedigree player to ever commit to a MAC school in the modern era and returns home to Ypsilanti.
At six-foot-ten, Bates would add badly needed size to the Eastern roster and a third high- scoring option. Bates length and skill would fill out the expected lineup nicely. Bates averaged 9.7 points and 3.7 rebounds at Memphis a year ago, when he should have been just a high school senior.
Bates is back from suspension after a legal issue which ultimately resulted in dropped charges, and should slot in as a starter right away.
PG Noah Farrakhan, 6’2, So.
Farrakhan should be the Eagles best player and one of the best players in the MAC. The one time ballyhooed recruit from Newark, New Jersey was a revelation as a transfer from East Carolina. Farrakhan provides instant offense for Eastern and is capable of single handedly taking over games (see: EMU vs Indiana last year). He was seventh in the MAC in scoring last year, and shot 40 percent from three.
SG Tyson Acuff, 6’4, Jr.
Remember the name.
Acuff, a Detroit Cass Tech product who was at Duquense, appears capable of filling the shoes of Monty Scott, who exhausted his eligibility. Acuff led Duquense in three-point shooting, and didn’t miss a game in two years at Duquense for former EMU assistant Keith Dambrot. Acuff somewhat stole the show at Eastern’s recent scrimmage, showing the ability to shoot but also able to drive to the basket. A willing defender who was once ranked higher than Toledo’s Ryan Rollins as a recruit, Acuff could be a surprise all-MAC candidate by seasons end.
SF Kevin David Rice, 6’4, Jr.
David Rice is former JUCO prospect from Grand Blanc high school and Delta Community College. He appeared in 20 games last winter with two starts while showing the ability to score, which was showcased during a 15-point effort against rival Central Michigan. He’ll likely sub in for Emoni Bates when he needs a rest from the small forward role.
PF Colin Golson Jr., 6’6, So.
Golson might be the Eagles strongest player; he looks like a grown man in the paint (something which matters in a grown-man’s league like the MAC). The Ferndale native who transferred in from Siena, saw action in 28 games with 17 starts. He went for double digits nine times, with four 16-point games.
C Legend Geeter, 6’7, So.
Eastern must replace Mo Njie from last year’s team, after Njie transferred to SMU after earning all-MAC freshman honors. Geeter is a skilled Providence transfer who is another hyped recruit after once being a candidate for Michigan’s Mr. Basketball in high school.
He played for former Eastern Michigan assistant LaMonta Stone at River Rouge high school and also played for the well-known, “The Family” on the AAU circuit. He also had a high school rivalry with current teammate, Emoni Bates. Geeter is skilled offensively, which was highlighted during a recent scrimmage where he scored off of a spin-move. The question will be with his defensive responsibility in a grown-man’s league like the MAC. Geeter screams like a player who will be much better by March than what we expect at the start of the season.
PF/C Derek Ballard Jr., 6’8, Sr.
The graduate student is a fan favorite who could be confused as the Mayor of Ypsilanti. Ballard will likely be one of the first big men off of the bench for head coach Stan Heath, a somewhat shocking career arch for a player who began as a walk-on under former head coach Rob Murphy. Ballard has added an improved three point shot and can be trusted by the staff defensively as an experienced big. He appeared in 20 games a season ago.
F Jalin Billingsley, 6’7, So.
Another transfer, this time from Georgetown where he played for NBA legend Patrick Ewing. Billingsley was once a finalist as a candidate for Mr. Basketball in Ohio while playing in the Cleveland area. He played in 30 games last season for the Hoyas, averaging 2.1 points and 1.8 boards per game. He’s able to shoot from the outside and may fit offensively as a three or stretch four. He’s lanky which leads to blocks, even if he can be somewhat passive in the paint.
G Luka Savicevic, 6’3, So.
Savicevic is an experienced player who has international experience with Macedonia. A play-making guard, Savicevic offers a scoring option off of the Eagle bench, as he can shoot the three ball. He appeared in 23 games last winter, making four starts. He finished with averaged of 3.2 points per game, 1.3 rebounds per game, and he had 29 assists. During a recent scrimmage, he was the focus of his opposing teammates defensively.
G Orlando Lovejoy, 6’2, Fr.
Lovejoy is another player who might surprise fans by having a bigger than expected roll by season’s end. A hyped recruit as a Detroit native, Lovejoy played a prep year in North Carolina, after he was a four-time captain at Romulus’ Summit Academy. During a recent scrimmage, Lovejoy showed impressive skills off of the dribble.
G Andrew Wells, 6’2, So.
Wells is an in-state product from East Lansing, who saw time in six games last season while scoring once. The year prior, he appeared in seven games. Both his father and grandfather went to EMU.
G Parker Ketterhagen, 6’3, So.
Walk-on who is the grandson of Eastern legend Kennedy McIntosh, who holds the school scoring record and was a three-time All-American. Ketterhagen did not see playing time last year but did once score 32 points at prep school.
F Derik Pranger, 6’9, Fr.
A late add to the 2022 recruiting class, Pranger joins the Eagles from Colorado. He didn’t commit to the program until late summer. He is a raw prospect who will need a year of strength and conditioning at the collegiate level. He’s 6’9 but plays like a wing and has a way’s to go defensively, however he features an advanced offensive toolbox and can shoot from deep (think of a Euro big).
F Yusef Jihad, 6’7, Sr.
Jihad is another veteran big for Stan Heath and company from North Farmington High School in Farmington Hills. Jihad is strongly built and appeared in 19 games last winter, he averaged just 1.8 points per game. Jihad joined the Eagles last year from Oakland University, who Eastern Michigan will visit on November 19. His brother Basheer Jihad plays for MAC rival Ball State.
G Joey Zaher, 5’11, Fr.
Walk-on from Flint Powers Catholic averaged 4.4 points per game as a high school senior but showed an ability to shoot the basketball during a recent scrimmage.
F Jevantae Randle, 6’9, So.
Yet another Detroit native, Randle averaged 20 points and 12 rebounds as a senior for Detroit Douglas enroute to a state championship. He is another Eagle who played his AAU ball for the famed, “The Family” program. He sat out last season as a redshirt, but could offer needed size to the program. He made some plays in their recent scrimmage and should be another Eagle pushing for time.
The Eagles have lost some leadership from last year’s team and losing Mo Njie to the transfer portal is another setback but the overall skill level and depth appear to have improved. The Eagles led by Farrakhan have enough without Emoni Bates to surprise in the league and if you can add Bates, then his size extends the lineup and adds another strong scoring threat.