Division I transfers make their mark at Eastern

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Division I transfers make their mark at Eastern

Blake Nash, Staff Reporter

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In the world of college basketball, approximately 500 basketball players transfer to different Division I programs each year, which is the highest level of play in the sport.

For Eastern coach Jay Spoonhour three players have transferred from Division I schools, while another transferred from a junior college, after a stint at a Division I university.

These four include Chris Olivier, Reggie Smith and Luke and Mat Piotrowski.

Each player possessed a unique set of skills, which got them to the Division I level, but Spoonhour said besides hard work on the court, he wants his players to act well off of it.

“I want players who play hard, but how they act is even more important,” Spoonhour said. “I also like to enjoy the guys around me.”

Senior guard Reggie Smith first came into contact with Spoonhour when he felt he wanted to transfer from the University of Nevada-Las Vegas.

UNLV assistant coach Dave Rice knew Spoonhour had taken the job at Eastern the previous season and made contact with him. He was not the only coach to contact Spoonhour about Smith

“I knew one of the assistant coaches at Eastern, Emanuel Dildy, and with him being connected to coach Spoonhour, it made that decision easier,” Smith said.

Dildy, himself transferred to Eastern as a player, after playing for two years at New Mexico State. He also served as the head coach at Kennedy-King College in Chicago. He now serves as an assistant coach at Loyola-Chicago.

Smith’s visit took place during the summer when campus was empty and remembers quite fondly of the meeting between he and Spoonhour that took place during his visit.

“Coach talked about what my future would hold for me from the time I arrived to the time I left Eastern,” Smith said. “He was honest and let me and my family talk during the meeting. I felt then that it would be the right direction.”

The connections didn’t stop there for Spoonhour. When he was the head coach and athletic director at Moberly Area Community College in Missouri, he coached against one of his future players, Chris Olivier.

“I remember coaching against Olivier when he was at Quakerdale Prep School in Iowa,” Spoonhour said. “From there he went to Northern Iowa, where he only played one game, and decided to come to Eastern to play for me.”

Olivier has been the leading scorer for the Panthers this season, averaging nearly 12 points and six rebounds per game, including a season-high 22 points in a win over Tennessee Tech for the Panthers’ OVC opener.

In Spoonhour’s three years of coaching at Eastern, he’s already created a family atmosphere, according to Smith.

“He keeps us motivated every day, and has shown us that becoming a family helps overcome adversity,” Smith said.

That statement rings true for the next two players, Mat and Luke Piotrowski, who began their collegiate careers at Boston University and Richmond, respectively.

However, Mat, a 7-foot-2 forward, would become the first to meet Spoonhour, when he transferred to Southwestern Illinois College in 2010, after two seasons at Boston.

“Coach came to a few practices and said he was interested in me coming to Eastern,” Mat said. “I heard good things about him, and so I decided to check it out.”

Mat remembers his father Tom, a former NBA player, playing a big part in his transfer process.

“My meetings with coach were normally just short talks in the gym or another office,” Mat said. “He talked to my dad a lot because we’re very close and my dad helped me a lot in the transfer process.”

However, Spoonhour said he didn’t know about Luke when he was recruiting his brother but was able to recruit him the next spring.

Luke, a 6-foot-11 forward, heard from his brother the previous summer about Eastern and believed that Spoonhour was a coach he would want to play for.

“Mat had been there for the summer, so he was familiar with the coaches and campus already,” Luke said. “I just kind of trusted him that I would like it.”

Luke talked to Spoonhour over the phone and became excited about playing with his brother again, for the first time since high school.

“I had the chance to earn playing time and play on the same team with my brother again,” Luke said. “It seemed like a place I’d be happy at.”

Luke had only played in six games at Richmond University in Virginia through his sophomore year, and his head coach wasn’t sure how much playing time he would get for his junior year.

“There were a few older guys ahead of me, and it became clear that if I wanted more minutes I should transfer,” Luke said said.

Being a 6-foot-11 forward, Piotrowski was a college recruiter’s dream, but Spoonhour said that playing hard is more important than size.

“Size has never really mattered to me,” Spoonhour said. “My players just need to play hard and make a good effort because you don’t do well without good effort.”

The Panthers will be in-action on Thursday against Murray State at Lantz Arena.

Blake Nash can be reached at 581-2812 or [email protected].