PORTSMOUTH — On the strength of a historic season, and a strong group of core players that includes First-Team all-MSC and Honorable Mention NAIA All-American E.J. Onu, the Shawnee State men’s basketball program was selected to finish fourth in the Mid-South Conference’s Preseason Poll — as released on Thursday morning by conference officials.
The Bears, which collected 94 points and a first-place vote in the preseason rankings, were one of three teams to be voted at the top of the poll by at least one institution in the conference.
Georgetown, who will be seeking its third consecutive Mid-South Conference Tournament Championship in the 2020-21 season, led the pack with 118 points and nine first-place votes on its line.
Behind Georgetown, Cumberlands (Ky.) and Thomas More (Ky.) barely edged out the Bears for second and third on the list, with the Patriots notching 105 points and the Saints collecting 100 points and two first-place votes.
Following that quartet, Campbellsville and Pikeville — which each claimed 70 points — tied for fifth in the standings, while Life (Ga.) placed seventh with 62 tallies.
Lindsey Wilson’s 47 markers and Cumberland (Tenn.)’s 37 points put the pair eighth and ninth on the list, while each of the three incoming schools from the Southern States Athletic Conference — Bethel, Freed-Hardeman and Martin Methodist — brought up the rear of the pack with 33, 31 and 21 points respectively.
After a historic 2019-20 season defensively, Onu returns for his final season in a Shawnee State uniform — after leading the nation’s best defensive unit with his play in the frontcourt.
Onu, who has 1,016 points for his career, averaged 11.7 points, 7.8 rebounds and an incredible 5.7 blocks per game to easily take home the 2019-20 Mid-South Conference Defensive Player of the Year Award — his second — and the aforementioned all-MSC and NAIA All-American billings.
Onu, who has the blocks and blocks per game record secured at Shawnee State with 379 blocks and 4.1 blocks per game, sits 229 blocks away from tying Gus Johnson’s 45-year-old record of 608 blocks set at Winona State (Minn.) from 1971 to 1975.
He had 182 last season.
Significant contributors in Kyree Elder, Justin Johnson, Tim Biakapia, Selby Hind-Wills and D’Andre Price all completed their eligibility last season, but the Bears did excellent recruiting work in finding the necessary pieces to fill those gaps.
James Jones, who started his basketball career at NCAA Division I Buffalo and was an all-Mondak performer for Montana Western last season, will play his final season at SSU.
Donovan Carlisle, who played at NCAA Division I Denver for two seasons as a starter in its lineup, transfers to SSU for his senior year — after a campaign at NCAA Division II Texas-Permian Basin.
In addition to that duo, promising guards Jakiel Wells and Dakota Prichard also return, while Issac Abergut, a 6-7 point guard who can play multiple positions; Shawn Paris, Jr., who has grown to 6-8; and Amier Gilmore, a 6-6 forward, are incoming junior college transfers who are expected to make significant impacts.
Kobie Johnson, Tanner Arey and Bailey Davis round out a seven-man senior class.
Tre Beard — the son of former SSU basketball standout Pat Beard and the OHSAA’s all-time leader in three-point field-goal percentage — and Markus Geldenhuys, Corie Blount, Jr., Alex Schalch and Latavious Mitchell round out a unit looking to build on a season where the Bears led the nation in defensive field-goal percentage (35-percent), blocks per game (7.1) and total blocks (227).
They finished second in the country in rebounding margin (plus-12.1) and total rebounds per game (44.9).
The Bears are scheduled to open their season Saturday, Oct. 31 and Sunday, Nov. 1 — in road bouts against Grace Christian (Mich.) and Great Lakes Christian (Mich.).
The first home contest is scheduled for Nov. 10 against Ohio Christian.
All home games will be broadcast via portal.stretchinternet.com/shawneest.
For more information on SSU Bears Athletics, visit www.ssubears.com or visit the Twitter and Facebook pages at https://twitter.com/SSUBears and https://www.facebook.com/SSUBears. For more information on how to join the SSU Bear Club or for sponsorship of specific SSU players or events, visit https://www.givecampus.com/schools/ShawneeStateUniversity/bear-club-challenge-2020-2021#updates.