By Mike Lehman, TTU Sports Information
COOKEVILLE, Tenn. – The Tennessee Tech men's basketball team will officially kick off the 2017-18 season Friday evening, playing host to Midway University at 7:30 p.m. CT as part of a season-opening doubleheader with the Golden Eagle women's team, which hosts Tennessee Wesleyan at 5:30 p.m.
Tennessee Tech (0-0) vs. Midway University (2-2)
Friday, Nov. 10, 2017
7:30 p.m. CT
Eblen Center (7,500) – Cookeville, Tenn.
Midway is in its second season under the direction of head coach Joe Krupinski.
The Eagles boast a roster of 22 players (one of which will sit out the year as a redshirt), by far the largest Tech will face on the year.
Midway sits at 2-2 on the year, winning its last two games against Cincinnati-Clermont and Boyce College. In its four contests, the team has played an average of over 14 players per game.
Last season, the NAIA program struggled on its way to a 2-25 record overall.
This marks the first meeting ever between Tech and Midway.
TECH PICKED 5TH IN OVC EAST
Tech was predicted to finish fifth overall in the 2018 OVC race in voting by the league's head coaches and SIDs.
The 2017-18 Tech roster features 14 players (12 scholarship student-athletes) representing three states and five countries.
Five Golden Eagle players hail from the state Tennessee, while Georgia boasts a total of four Tech players. California represents home for one player.
Four Tech players were born outside the United States, all of which live in their native countries when not in Cookeville; Aleksa Jugovic from Serbia, Stephaun Adams from the U.S. Virgin Islands, Joan Duran from the Dominican Republic and Domen Omladič from Slovenia.
Tech has two graduate students, three seniors, three juniors, three sophomores, and three true freshmen.
Seven Golden Eagles stand 6-foot-5 or taller while the other seven measure in at 6-foot-4 or shorter.
Tech is 38-2 all-time in home openers in the Eblen Center, with the two losses coming against Oakland in the Hall of Fame Showcase in 2009 and to Central Michigan last season.
DON'T SELL EXPERIENCE SHORT
Tech boasts arguably the most experienced team in the OVC entering the 2017-18 season, returning a whopping 77.3 percent of its minutes played from just a season ago. That mark ranks first in the league by over 10 percent (Eastern Kentucky returns 66.6 percent).
The Golden Eagles also return 71 percent of its scoring from the 2016-17 squad, ranking only behind the Colonels' 75.7 percent. Only Tech, Eastern Kentucky and Murray State return both of their respective top-two scorers, with TTU's Aleksa Jugovic and Kajon Mack combining for 27.0 ppg, EKU's Nick Mayo and Asante Gist totaling 34.4 ppg and MSU's Jonathan Stark and Terrell Miller teaming up for 37.9 ppg.
Aside from the Golden Eagles, only Eastern Illinois and Eastern Kentucky return at least four of their top-five scorers from last season. Tech will return six of its top-seven scorers from the 2016-17 campaign.
40TH ANNIVERSARY OF THE HOOP
Originally opened back in 1977, the Hooper Eblen Center was named for former athlete, head coach and administrator Hooper Eblen, who served the university for 33 years and was instrumental in planning the football stadium and basketball arena. This season, "The Hoop" – or as it was once known, "The Temple of Doom" – will celebrate its 40th season since opening for the TTU Invitational Volleyball Tournament on Sept. 20, 1977.
The Tech men's team hosted the first basketball game in the Eblen Center, earning a 72-71 victory over in-state foe Vanderbilt on Nov. 26, 1977.
The Tech men have enjoyed a home court advantage since the opening of The Hoop, boasting a win percentage of 70.1 in the Eblen Center. From Dec. 2, 2000 to Jan. 4, 2003, did not lose a game in the facility, amassing 33 straight victories for the longest home win streak in program history.
During its 40th anniversary, The Hoop will play host to 29 total basketball games, including 15 for the women and 14 for the men.
GIVE ME SOME SUGAR
After averaging 5.8 points as a freshman and 12.1 points as a sophomore, senior guard Aleksa Jugovic continued his upward trend by averaging a team-high 15.2 points per game last season. The slick shooting Serb became the 36th member of the Golden Eagles' 1,000-point club last year and enters the season with 1,020 career points
Fans can follow Jugovic on Twitter under his handle/nickname @SerbianSugar. The moniker, originally developed by current assistant coach and previous director of basketball operations Gus Fraley, was created to help acclimate the Serbia native to the fans of Golden Eagle basketball.
Between his junior and senior years in high school, Jugovic starred for the Serbian U-18 national team, starting at point guard at the 2013 FIBA Europe U-18 Championships. He averaged a team-high 30.2 minutes while recording 8.4 points, 3.4 rebounds, 3.2 assists and 1.5 steals per game.
For the second straight year, Jugovic earned a place on the Preseason All-OVC Team, entering 2017-18 as the league's fifth-leading returning scorer and second-most active 3-point shooter, hitting 2.6 treys per game last year. He also earned a place on Lindy's Sports Preseason All-OVC First Team and College Sports Madness' Preseason All-OVC Second Team.
Additionally, Jugovic led the OVC and ranked 10th nationally in free throw shooting, hitting 90.8 percent of his attempts from the charity stripe, the third-highest showing in school history. He currently ranks second all-time in Golden Eagle history in career free throw percentage, converting an 87.4 rate.
A deadly 3-point sniper, Jugovic enters the year needing just 68 triples to break former Golden Eagle Frank Davis' all-time program record of 251 made 3-pointers. The senior knocked down 71 treys as a sophomore and 82 more as a junior.
EARNING A SPOT
A walk-on to the Tech roster back during the 2013-14 season, Mason Ramsey has done plenty to earn the respect of his teammates and coaches in his four seasons in the purple and gold.
The local Livingston, Tenn. native was awarded a scholarship by Steve Payne following the 2014-15 season, Ramsey's first year of action on the court in Eblen Center.
After redshirting in 2013-14, Ramsey became the first Tech freshman since 1986-87 to open his career with a double-double, posting 14 points and 14 rebounds.
Ramsey saw an uptick in his performance during OVC play in 2016-17, averaging 10.9 points and 5.3 rebounds (or about 1.5 more points and nearly a full rebound more) during the league stretch. He notched a career-high in scoring twice during that span while dropping double-digit points in over half of the contests.
While technically still a senior in eligibility, Ramsey represents the third graduate student on the team in 2017-18. The veteran earned his bachelor's degree in finance in May and is currently working on his master's in business administration.
After spending the 2015-16 season building his strength and size and working on his low post moves as a redshirt, Micaiah Henry showed improvement down on the block for the Golden Eagles in 2017-18.
The youngster has shown improvement since his arrival on campus, possessing a knack for blocking shots. He also comes from some familiar territory to the Golden Eagle program, hailing from Columbia High School (Ga.).
TTU legend Lorenzo Coleman, Tech's all-time leader in blocked shots also attended Columbia High School. The post also posted the most double-doubles in program history with 40 in four years.
Last season, Henry rejected the second-most shots by a Golden Eagle freshman in school history, sending back 39 attempts. That number ranked only behind Coleman's 85 blocks in 1993-94. The four-year man finished with 439 career rejections, ranking third in NCAA history at the end of his career.
Henry's 15-point debut featured a 7-for-10 showing from the field, representing the most field goals made by a Golden Eagle freshman in their debut since Jason Harrell went 7-for-16 at South Carolina on Nov. 17, 2000 and the most without a 3-pointer since Carlos Carter finished 8-for-11 against Clinch Valley College on Dec. 1, 1992.
THE TRANSFER EFFECT
Three members of the 2017-18 roster are Division I transfers while a fourth is a Division II transfer. Graduate student Kajon Mack and senior Curtis Phillips Jr. both made their debut last season with much success. Graduate transfer Shaq Calhoun and Division II transfer Corey Tillery are both immediately eligible for the 2017-18 season and expected to contribute right away.
Graduate guard Kajon Mack earned a sixth year of eligibility by the NCAA after missing two seasons due to injury while previously playing at Tulane.
The combo guard was a do-everything player for Tech in 2017-18, leading the team in rebounding, assists and steals while ranking second in scoring. He averaged 11.8 points, 5.0 rebounds, 2.8 assists and 1.3 steals.
With his performance, Mack became the first Golden Eagle in program history to lead the team in both rebounding and assists in a single season.
The Los Angeles native flirted with triple-doubles three times last season, putting up 18 points, six assists and eight rebounds against Central Michigan (Nov. 14), 14 points, seven assists and seven rebounds at Ohio and 24 points, six assists and 12 rebounds against Belmont.
He showed a knack for making big plays and putting up big performances in the most important games of the season for Tech as well. He posted his first career double-double (career-highs of 24 pts and 12 reb) while helping the Golden Eagles hand Belmont its only OVC loss of 2017-18.
Mack followed it up with back-to-back steals and layups in the final 35 seconds in regulation of TTU's crucial overtime victory at Jacksonville State to help clinch a tournament berth.
In Tech's OVC Tournament contest against Murray State, it was Mack's dunk with less than two second on the clock that tied the game and sent it to overtime. He put the team on his back, scoring all nine points in the first overtime period to send it to double OT.
WORTH THE WAIT
After sitting out the second semester of 2015-16 and the first 10 games of last season due to NCAA transfer rules, Curtis Phillips Jr. made his time on the court count, ranking fifth on the team in scoring and fourth in rebounding.
After earning Big South All-Freshman Team honors in 2014-15, the forward made seven starts and played in eight contests for Campbell as a sophomore before mutually agreeing to part ways with the program.
The wing finished strong for Tech in 2017-18, scoring in double figures in five of his final seven games, including posting his second career double-double with 16 points and 10 rebounds in the OVC Tournament.
AT LONG LAST
Golden Eagle fans have been waiting for years to see Shaq Calhoun take up the purple and gold, but the wait is finally over. After originally committing to Tech out of Model High School in Georgia, Calhoun ended up at Iowa Western Community College for two seasons, sitting out his sophomore year with an injury.
Originally recruited by both Coach Payne and former TTU assistant coach Russ Willemsen, Calhoun joined Willemsen at South Alabama for the next two seasons. At long last, he makes his long awaited return to Cookeville as a graduate transfer.
Calhoun averaged 8.5 points and 2.3 rebound per game while tallying 88 steals in 65 games while as USA. The 6-foot-4 guard adds size and scoring ability to the Tech lineup, not to mention another veteran presence.
Sophomore guard Corey Tillery joins the Golden Eagles from the Division II ranks and is immediately eligible to play for Tech after Armstrong State shut down its athletic program while preparing to dissolve into Georgia Southern University.
The sharpshooter left ASU the program's leading scorer last season, averaging 18.4 points per game on his way to Peach Belt Conference Freshman of the Year honors. He hit an impressive 42.7 percent of his 227 attempts from beyond the arc last season while also firing at an 86.0 percent clip from the charity stripe.
Two Golden Eagle players can make the trip to Cookeville from their respective home towns in about 20 minutes, just outside of shouting distance.
Senior Mason Ramsey hails from nearby Livingston, Tenn., just 20 miles north of Cookeville.
Sophomore junior college transfer Cade Crosland calls Sparta, Tenn. home, a less-than 20-mile trip south of Cookeville.
Courtney Alexander II has one of the best role models in which to model his game after that a collegiate player can have. And he lives in the same house.
His father, Courtney Alexander Sr., was the 13th overall selection by the Orlando Magic in the 2000 NBA Draft.
Courtney Sr. went on to play three seasons in the Association, including stints with Dallas, Washington and New Orleans.
In college, he led the NCAA in scoring with 24.8 points per game as a senior at Fresno State.
Alexander II changed the hand he shoots with for the second time in his young career. As a prep player, the forward shot primarily with his left hand, making the switch to his right during his senior season. The junior transitioned back to his left hand as a freshman at Tech.
Photo by Thomas Corhern, TTU Sports Information