IUP’s basketball season ended Tuesday, but another season began almost immediately.
Coach Joe Lombardi and his staff went to work on the recruiting trail to try to find players to replace five graduating seniors. IUP loses three starters in point guard Anthony Wells, shooting guard Scooter Renkin and center Josh Wiegand, as well as reserve forward/center Danny Ayebo and reserve forward Chris Edwards.
Their departure leaves only four players from the regular rotation returning next season: starting forward Marcel Souberbielle, starting guard Mathis Keita, backup point guard Devante Chance and reserve forward Devon Cottrell. Souberbielle and Keita will be seniors, Chance will be a junior, and Cottrell will be a sophomore.
Lombardi said he plans to bring in five or six players for next season.
“Obviously we need to get some impact players, guys who can start or be in the rotation, and we have to get some guys we can develop over the next year or two,” he said. “Position-wise, we need to bring in another point guard, and we need a couple wings. And we need to get two post players that are ready to contribute and possibly a young post player that can grow into contributing at this level.”
Lombardi said all avenues are open when it comes to finding recruits, from high school players to Division I transfers.
“We keep everything open, from high school kids to foreign international athletes to junior college guys and four-year transfers,” he said. “We like to have a good blend because it’s important to keep an eye open for everything, and we’ll make decisions as we go along as to what the best fits are and fills our needs best.”
IUP also is counting on the emergence of Manny Yarde, who sat out this season and will be a redshirt freshman next season, and the continued development of 7-foot-3 center Blake Vedder, who transferred from Rhode Island prior to this season and has one year of eligibility remaining.
Yarde, a 6-3 guard from Schuylkill Valley High School, practiced with the team this season. He averaged 21.2 points, 7.5 rebounds and 4.0 assists as a high school senior and finished his career with 1,464 points.
“Manny worked really hard and had a good redshirt year,” Lombardi said. “He’s a guy that’s committed to the program and has all the intangibles we look for in a player. He’s unselfish, a hard worker in practice and puts in a lot of time on his own. He understands how to cut stone, and he’s a guy that fits into the mold of the other high school players we’ve brought in and have gotten better over the years.”
Yarde is considered to fit the mold of Ashton Smith, a four-year player who finished his career last year as an All-American and one of the best guards in school history.
“He could be one of the best defenders we’ve ever had, and he can score at all three levels of the floor,” Lombardi said. “He’s a decent 3-point shooter, he can score off the bounce, he has an in-between game from 12 to 15 feet, and he has the strength and athleticism to finish at the rim through contact. We expect him to be in the rotation depending on what type of offseason he continues to have and the other players we bring in to determine what his role is.”
Vedder played only sparingly in two seasons at Rhode Island, and he was considered a project when he came to IUP.
“I really enjoyed coaching Blake this year, and I’m happy with his progress,” Lombardi said. “Blake would be the first to tell you how many things were so new to him, and he might have been surprised at how good the players are at this level and the amount of work you have to do to be successful on both ends of the floor.”
Lombardi said Vedder needs to have a good offseason to earn playing time. This season he played the majority of his minutes early in the season. As Wiegand emerged as an offensive threat and Ayebo continued to give IUP its best option as an interior defender, Vedder saw less playing time. He averaged 4.2 points and 2.3 rebounds in 10.7 minutes per game.
“Blake has to continue to improve,” Lombardi said. “He improved a lot since September, and we have hopes he can fill the void left with Danny and Josh leaving, but it’s not something that’s just handed to him. He has to continue to work and compete and take all the lessons he learned this year on both ends of the floor and use those as fuel to have a great offseason. He’s a smart young man and a good worker so I see his offseason being really huge for him and one that he’ll seize and take advantage of.”
IUP finished 26-6 this season, won its third Pennsylvania State Athletic Conference championship in four years, its fourth straight PSAC West title and played in the NCAA Division II Atlantic Region championship for the third time in four years. The Crimson Hawks have had five straight 20-win seasons, have earned five straight NCAA tournament berths and have finished each of the last four seasons ranked in the top 25, including three years in the top 10. IUP closed this season ranked 10th.
“Next year will be a rebuilding year, but every year is a rebuilding year,” Lombardi said. “But with five graduating seniors, in some ways as a coach you look at it as a daunting task, not so much daunting because there are a lot of good players out there, but daunting from the standpoint of how to fill the void we have with leadership and the intangibles and the content of character they brought to the program. Some of that has to be picked up by the returning guys in their leadership, and the other part of the void with the guys we bring in is what type of intangibles they bring to the program.”
Souberbielle and Keita averaged double figures in scoring. Keita led the team in scoring (13.5), rebounding (6.2) and assists (3.3). Both were named to the Atlantic Region all-tournament team, and Keita was a first-team all-conference selection. Souberbielle averaged 10.8 points and 4.5 rebounds.
“Whoever we recruit, it’s the same way: The guys coming back, it’s their program,” Lombardi said. “We have to recruit guys with that thought in mind that they have to complement the guys we have and then build from that.
“An important factor that can’t be overlooked in the pursuit of talent is the type of young men we recruit. We have to find guys that are willing to be unselfish, committed with their work ethic, willing to be giving of themselves in order to connect with the other guys in the program. So it’s a big puzzle we have to try to figure out and put tougher and see if we can find the right pieces to complement the guys we have coming back.”