Wittenberg Tigers men’s basketball coach Matt Croci faced a challenge in recruiting this year. His program lost only one senior, guard Mitch Balser, and he knew incoming recruits would see that and question whether they would be able to compete for playing time as freshmen.
» WITT FOOTBALL: Fincham announces 61-man class
The Tigers, coming off back-to-back North Coast Athletic Conference tournament championships and 51 victories in the last two seasons, will be a deep and experienced team in 2019-20.
“In this day and age, kids like to play and they want an opportunity to play early,” Croci said Thursday. “When you go online and see we only graduate one player and have a lot of guys back, you get a lot of high school kids that are a little I don’t want to say afraid but just a little bit more aware it’s going to be tougher to play earlier.”
Croci and his staff put together a nine-man recruiting class in their first season and an eight-man class a year ago. The 2019 recruiting class has three players: Brice Hill, a 6-foot-5 wing from Cincinnati Seven Hills High School; Cooper Lewis, a 6-3 wing from Indianapolis Bishop Chatard; and Quinn Starkey, a 6-3 wing from Chelsea High School (Mich.).
“I think the approach this year was definitely different,” Croci said. “We only graduated one senior, so we knew it was going to be a smaller class. It’s a little smaller than we were shooting for, but we definitely were looking for a smaller class focused on big guards.”
Wittenberg could still add to its class with freshmen or transfers, but for now, here’s a rundown on the three incoming recruits.
Hill: He was a team captain, earned an All-Ohio special mention and was named Miami Valley Conference Player of the Year the last two seasons. He’s the third-leading scorer in Seven Hills history. He averaged 15.8 points, 4.9 rebounds and 2.2 assists per game as a senior.
Hill was familiar with Wittenberg because he knows Rashaad Ali-Shakir, a Cincinnati Purcell Marian graduate, and James Johnson, a Cincinnati Roger Bacon graduate. Both are entering their junior years and played big roles in their first two seasons. Hill’s dad, Willie Hill, is the head coach at Seven Hills.
» LOOKING BACK: Tigers fall in second round of NCAA tournament
“I saw Brice play last summer in AAU,” Croci said. “Really liked him from the start. He came to our elite camp in September. Got to know his family really well and saw him play quite a bit. He’s got an opportunity to be really really good. He can do a little bit of everything. He can play all the guard spots.”
Lewis: A team captain who led the Circle City Conference in 3-pointers the last two seasons, Lewis also attended Wittenberg’s camp in September.
“He really loved it,” Croci said. “He’s another big guard, a really good 3-pointer, a catch-and-shoot guy. He comes from a really good high school program in Indy and just felt a good connection. He came back and saw a couple games, visited a couple more times. We were looking for another big 3-point shooter, and he will fill that mold.
Starkey: The grandson of Stan Starkey, a 1969 Wittenberg graduate who was a two-time All-Ohio Athletic Conference selection, Starkey has twice earned All-SouthEastern Conference first-team honors. He shot 47 percent from 3-point range as a junior.
“Stan and some of his teammates reached out to me last year when Quinn was a junior,” Croci said, “so we kind of got a foot in the door. His family came down. He’s very similar to Cooper, a big guard who can really shoot it.”
Thank you for reading the Springfield News-Sun and for supporting local journalism. Subscribers: log in for access to your daily ePaper and premium newsletters.
Thank you for supporting in-depth local journalism with your subscription to the Springfield News-Sun. Get more news when you want it with email newsletters just for subscribers. Sign up here.