The McKendree University men’s basketball team began its offseason retooling Monday when it signed four players, including Mater Dei center Nolan Gerling and Althoff graduate David Franklin.
The 6-foot-9 Gerling, a second-team all-state selection in Class 2A and a first-team pick on the New-Democrat’s Class 1A-2A all-area team, averaged 15.7 points and 7.4 rebounds as the Knights (23-12) finished fourth in the Class 2A state tournament. He will have four years eligibility.
“They got fourth in the state and he’s a big reason for that,” McKendree coach Harry Statham said. “They had a lot of balance, but he was a big man and a key guy for them. He’s got a great work ethic and he likes to run and get in the weightroom. He’s got quick feet, good footwork and good quickness for a big man. I think he’s going to be very good.”
The Bearcats, who were 11-15 overall and 4-14 in the Great Lakes Valley Conference, sorely needed some bulk in the paint, particularly with the graduation of 6-5 Matt Holmes and the loss of 6-7 Arthur Williams, who didn’t return for the second semester.
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Gerling is looking forward to the opportunity with McKendree.
“I really like how nice and welcoming their players were,” Gerling said of a visit to the campus. “They made it seem like I was a part of the team already. Also, I like how it is 30 minutes from home, so I can always come home whenever needed.
“Also, it is a great honor to play with such a great coach. With all his wins and years of coaching, I know I will improve my game. I feel like I need to improve my strength, which I have been working on already. I can’t wait to start working out with them and becoming better.”
Statham hopes to add another post player in coming weeks, preferably from the junior-college ranks.
The 6-4 Franklin, an O’Fallon native who played at Althoff, comes to McKendree from Lake Land College in Mattoon, where he averaged 21 points and seven rebounds as a sophomore. Franklin also shot 36 percent from beyond the 3-point line. He will have two years eligibility.
“He had great success there,” Statham said. “He was their leading scorer, their leading rebounder. He’s a good defender who competes hard. He’s our kind of guy.”
Franklin, who averaged 17 points as a senior at Althoff, is the older brother of Donovan Franklin, the senior at O’Fallon who set the career scoring record at the school this season. Donovan Franklin is unsigned.
The other additions to the program are 6-6 junior Darin Winkelman and 6-6 Rob Hudson.
Winkelman graduated from Steeleville High in 2013 and played the last two years at Kaskaskia College in Centralia. He was a reserve last season, averaging just under five points. Winkelman topped the 1,000-point mark at Steeleville.
“He was a slender post man for Steeleville,” Statham said. “He can really shoot the basketball. He’ll be a stretch (forward). He can go out and shoot the 3 and can play a little post. He’s an undersized post man for our league, but he can play it a little bit if he has to. His best basketball is ahead of him.”
Hudson is a graduate of Conant High in Hoffman Estates and has three years of eligibility remaining. He originally committed to Ferris State, but transferred and played last year at Harper College in Chicago, where he averaged 11.9 points and 4.7 rebounds.
“He’s our most versatile player,” Statham said. “He’s got 3-point range, he gets to the rim really well, he can guard post people and play in the post a little bit and he can really board. He’s a good defender and a solid player.”
McKendree graduated Holmes and Logan Carson of Du Quoin. The Bearcats will return seniors A.J. Schmidt, Brandon Book, John Murphy and David Newton, juniors Michael Jackson, Kyle Yates and Brian Koch, and sophomores Nick McPhail and Nate Michael, who will have four years eligibility remaining after being redshirted because of injury this season.
West players choose colleges
Two seniors from Belleville West also have made their college decisions.
Eugene Jones, a 6-5 guard-forward, signed with Mineral Area in Park Hill, Mo., while 6-9 Will Presson signed with Rend Lake College in Ina.
Jones led the Maroons in scoring at 14.7 points per game and his 6.5 rebounds per game ranked second on the team.
“Mineral Area really, really wanted him,” Maroons coach Joe Muniz said. “They made it a priority to try to lock him up. As the season went on, Eugene got better. He added strength and his shooting became more consistent. He handled the ball quite a bit for us at the end of the season. When you’re 6-5, 6-6 and can handle the ball, that’s a pretty nice weapon to have out there.”
Mineral Area was 27-4 last season and qualified for the NJCAA Tournament. Muniz believes Jones has the ability to play right away.
“The biggest thing he’s progressed in is strength,” Muniz said. “It will be interesting to see what he looks like in three or four years. If he starts filling out, his game’s only going to get better.”
Presson, who averaged seven points and seven rebounds, has something that can’t be coached – height – and he also is athletic. After being sidelined for several games because of a left-elbow injury, Presson improved dramatically and was regularly recording double-doubles late in the season.
“The injury kind of made me miss (competing),” Presson said. “It was a good chunk of the season. I knew I could do well; I just had to get healthy. It’s 100 percent now. I’m back to normal.
“I have plenty of work to do. The coaches will help me out.”
Muniz said Presson made dramatic progress in his high-school career.
“If you looked at Will when he walked in as a freshman ... He was probably the 12th or 13th man on the freshman team,” Muniz said. “One of the reasons we kept him is because he was 6-foot-4 and extremely awkward. You couldn’t do anything but get excited about his future. He’s improved more than any kid I’ve ever had.
“As a freshman, he was a huge liability out there. Every year, he made improvements. This year, he made great strides throughout the season. The injury hurt us, but it hurt him, too, because he was starting to figure things out. He’s got so much potential, and he’s willing to work at it. He’s got a chance to go on and play at a pretty high level.”