5 things to know about the UND men's basketball offseason
Like many mid-major basketball programs right now, the Fighting Hawks are undergoing a roster change for the 2022-23 season. Here's five things to know about the year ahead.
GRAND FORKS — With transfers and incoming high school recruits, the UND men's basketball roster will have a new look in 2022-23.
In order to try to keep up with the dizzying pace of recruiting and offseason storylines, the Herald sat down with UND men's basketball coach Paul Sather.
Here are five big takeaways about next year's Fighting Hawks.
1. Searching for Ihenacho type
When 2021 Summit League Freshman of the Year Tyree Ihenacho left UND to join James Madison, the Fighting Hawks couldn’t fill that skill set of a 6-foot-4, 200-pound true point guard.
For the 2022 offseason, that meant the Fighting Hawks were searching for a prospect to be Ihenacho-like – offensively but perhaps more importantly someone with the ability to guard multiple positions.
Enter Jalun Trent, a 6-4 junior college transfer originally from Baltimore and out of Cochise College.
Trent averaged 9.4 points, 8.0 assists and 7.2 rebounds per game at Cochise. He was also the conference and region defensive player of the year.
“There’s a lot he’ll have to learn, just like any kid coming in as a transfer, but he helps us guard with diversity,” UND coach Paul Sather said.
In 2021-22, true freshman point guard Reid Grant played 15 minutes per game and had varying success.
“We love what Reid did and how he grew,” Sather said. “He went from a guy who would maybe redshirt to playing a lot, but the plan all along was to get a guy with him who had a different skill set, so that’s where Trent came in for the upcoming season.”
2. Getting the high school products up to speed
UND will bring in three players of high-school age in Bismarck’s Treysen Eaglestaff, Mankato’s B.J. Omot and Victor Ndoukou of England.
All three join the Hawks with big prep accolades. Ndoukou was the Elite Academy Basketball League’s Most Valuable Player and put up 30 points in the EABL championship. Eaglestaff was North Dakota's Mr. Basketball and Omot was Minnesota Class AAA all-state first team.
“You just don’t know how quickly guys can make an impact,” Sather said.
Sather likes Eaglestaff’s ability to score on multiple levels.
“You want to give him a chase to play and B.J. at 6-8 can play at the two and three and down the road some four,” Sather said. “Treysen can play point guard in time. I feel like we have the versatility part from incoming freshmen with Victor having a big body (6-8). How soon can they help? We’ll find out.
“The tough thing is you want to eventually get old but in the same respect, we think young guys can come in and impact things right away. Treysen and BJ have special abilities you don’t see in freshmen. They can stretch it and finish at the rim and create off the bounce. It’s all how quickly can they figure it out. When’s the light switch come on? There’ll be opportunities to come in and have success, so we’ll see.”
3. Mitchell Sueker coming back
UND’s second leading scorer last season – Mitchell Sueker – only played in 15 games and averaged 9.9 points per game.
And that average isn’t quite fair as the last few games Sueker wasn’t himself. However, he scored 25 points against Troy, 18 against Montana and 17 against Eastern Washington early in the season.
But in mid-January, Sueker was told he needed ankle surgery.
UND missed his 6-8 size and scoring ability. The brilliant South Dakota School of Mines graduate transfer has an extra year to play thanks to COVID eligibility rules.
“We should get him more full in the summer, but we don’t know where he’ll be coming back at,” Sather said. “All signs say he’s coming back strong.”
4. Mathews played through a bad back
UND fans excited about the potential of 6-9, 230-pound Brian Mathews can use this as hope: He played most of his true freshman season as a 17-year-old.
“I don’t know how many freshmen in the league at the five have a lot of success,” Sather said. “We’re really excited about Brian.”
Mathews averaged 13 minutes per game and 4.2 points. He shot 57.3 percent from the field.
Also, he did that with a bad back for some of the season. Mathews had back surgery after the season after playing with a herniated disc.
“You’re talking about a true freshman that played through a lot of pain and discomfort and wasn’t practicing much,” Sather said. “Brian grew up a little bit. He’s excited about being here and getting healthy. He’s finally getting good sleep and not having shooting pain down his legs. Now, he’s on the floor and competing again. That’ll take awhile.”
5. Levias remains a wildcard
Injuries played a role in UND’s struggles last season – with Sueker missing half of the season and Mathews and Caleb Nero playing through pain.
But a lesser-known injury could’ve been a game-changer, too. Junior college transfer A’jahni Levias, a 6-6 forward who averaged more than 17 points per game in his one junior college season, redshirted last year due to injury.
“He’s really smart and has a tremendous feel,” Sather said. “That leg never really got back during the season, so we just made a decision to redshirt. He’ll be a 20-year-old freshman next year. It’s a big year for him. He gets it, but you have to get a healthy body and he didn’t get a chance to do that.”
UND’s staff doesn’t even know truly what Levias can bring. He was recruited during the COVID in-person recruiting shutdown.
“He has some things he brings to the table, but we have to see him bring them to the table now and get eating,” Sather said. “He’s not where he needs to be physically yet.”