Seven newcomers, seven returners poised to battle for men's basketball

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OVERVIEW

The John Brown University men's basketball team will feature a mixture of old and new faces for the 2017-18 season.

The Golden Eagles have seven new players on this year's roster, in addition to the seven returners from the 2016-17 season that saw JBU finish with a 15-15 record and finish 7-11 and seventh in the Sooner Athletic Conference. The Golden Eagles were picked to finish seventh out of 12 teams in the league in vote of the conference coaches.

The season begins Saturday at 8 p.m. with the annual Toilet Paper Game against Ecclesia (Ark.).

THE ROSTER

John Brown returns its leading scorer from a year ago in junior guard Jake Caudle, who averaged 12.3 points per game, along with junior Marquis Waller, who was JBU's second-leading returning scorer from last year at 8.6 points per game. Returning junior Josh Bowling, junior Benjamin Smith and sophomore Brenton Toussaint were all starters at one point last season while junior Joshua Rhodius and sophomore Dwayne Hart also played some at times.

JBU graduated four seniors from last year's team in Zach English, Ricky Roberts, Matthew Ledford and Miguel Martinez.

Two of the seven newcomers are transfers and both are natives of Croatia. Forward Kristijan Joksimovic (6-foot-6) comes to JBU from Ranger Junior College (Texas) and plays a wing position. Sophomore forward Mateo Habazin (6-foot-8) joins the team from NCAA II West Alabama. Habazin has been battling a preseason injury but could be back by the start of 2018 and would be a big addition to the Golden Eagles' front line.

Two of John Brown's six incoming freshman have come via the prep school route. Deniser Carnes is a 6-foot-6 forward from Atlanta who fits the system well and is a verstaile player that can shoot the three-pointer and guard around the basket. Guard Rokas Grabliauskas, from Providence Christian Academy in Rogers, is going to give the Golden Eagles an option at point guard.

Siloam Springs basketball fans will be familiar with guard Nathan Corder of Alma while Darrell Jones (6-foot-1) of Port Arthur, Texas, can play both guard positions. Jaylon Rucker (5-foot-10) hails from Frisco, Texas, and also plays point guard. Rucker and Grabliauskas are the likely candidates to man the point guard positions.

Caudle will once again play a large role in the Golden Eagles' plans. A former Bentonville standout, Caudle (6-foot-1) shot 40.7 percent from behind the arc last year and averaged more than 29 minutes per game.

Bowling (6-foot-6) moves into more of a wing role after playing a post position last year. He averaged 6.5 points a game a year ago. Bowling is another that can knock down the outside shot, and in fact, three-point shooting should be a team strength for the Golden Eagles.

Waller (6-foot-4) is one of the Golden Eagles' more athletic players, who averaged 8.6 points per game. He's listed as a guard but can also play forward.

Smith (6-foot-8), another Bentonville product, showed flashes early last year of being able to score in bunches, including going 7-of-7 from behind the three-point line in a win against Philander Smith (Ark.). He averaged 6.5 points per game and shot 46.3 percent from long distance.

Toussaint (6-foot-5) gives the Golden Eagles a big body at forward and a lot of energy. He averaged 3.8 points and 3.0 points per game. Rhodius (6-foot-2) gives the Golden Eagles another option at guard, while Hart (6-foot-8) is looking for his first full season with the Golden Eagles, playing only 10 games last season before breaking his kneecap at Wayland Baptist (Texas).

The Golden Eagles have added two new assistant coaches to the staff for this season in Drew Schauss and Chris Dendinger.

AROUND THE LEAGUE

NAIA national champion Texas Wesleyan was picked to win the Sooner Athletic Conference, while Oklahoma City was second, followed by Mid-America Christian (Okla.), Science & Arts (Okla.), Wayland Baptist, Southwestern A.G. (Texas) and John Brown. St. Gregory's (Okla.) was picked eighth, followed by Southwestern Christian (Okla.), Central Christian (Kan.), Oklahoma Panhandle State and Bacone (Okla.).