Eastern men’s basketball coach Jay Spoonhour has announced the signing of five players for next season, which includes two transfers coming in as juniors and three freshmen.
The Daily Eastern News sports editor, Dillan Schorfheide, talked with each of the incoming players to get a feeling of how the recruiting process went for each of them, and why they ultimately decided to choose to sign with Eastern.
He also talked with Spoonhour and others connected to some of the players to provide some extra details into the types of players each of them are and to give our readers more insight on these players they may not know.
Follow our coverage of the recruitment process as more news comes along, and as Eastern looks to fill its roster.
Alex Birge, an assistant basketball coach at Santa Fe College, coached Leonard for two years and had nothing but praise for him.
“He’s a great kid,” Birge said. “He works hard, he’s the model kid you want to coach, good academics too.”
Leonard is a versatile player that, though was typically a shooting guard, could act as a point guard if need be and make smart plays, Birge said.
Leonard mentioned his versatility is something Spoonhour talked with him about.
“Coach Spoonhour said he was looking to bring in a guy with a high basketball IQ and who could get teammates involved,” Leonard said. “He mentioned my length and the possibility of being a good defender.”
Birge added that a couple things that stand out about Leonard’s game are his ability to make plays and the experience he has coming into Eastern.
“He can score at all three levels,” Birge said. “He’s pretty athletic. Ryan can put the ball on the ground and drive to the basket. He’s got a sneaky athleticism about him, like he had some highlight dunks for us this year.”
What immediately stands out about Leonard on paper is his three-point shooting: he shot 39 percent from three-point range this season.
But Birge said Leonard is also an aggressive, smart player, who can grab rebounds and get out in transition well. Leonard scored in double figures in 17 games last season, according to Eastern’s press release of his signing, and he led the team in scoring with 12.2 points per game.
Leonard added that when he was younger, he was not the best offensively, but once he played at a prep school in New Jersey for a year and went to Santa Fe, he developed into a better scorer. The only thing he still needs to work on: His mid-range game, he said.
Leonard is 6-feet-4-inches tall, which puts him at a similar height to other Eastern ball handlers like Josiah Wallace and Deang Deang.
The combination of Leonard’s height and athleticism and abilities in transition will fit in well with Eastern’s play style because Eastern’s guards grab a fair amount of rebounds, and Eastern likes to always try to push the pace in transition.
What also gives Leonard an edge in transferring to Eastern is his prior experience: He played for Ireland’s national team as a member of the U16, U18 and U20 teams.
“It’s a great honor,” Leonard said, regarding playing for the national team. “I got to play against great competition from Europe. It helped my game a lot.”
Birge said that this experience, along with the year Leonard played the prep school in New Jersey, allowed him to transition smoothly to Santa Fe and have an impact as a freshman right away.
With Leonard’s signing to play at Eastern, Birge said he is happy for his now former player.
“It’s great to see a good kid go on and succeed,” he said. “I’m excited to follow his journey.”
Farquhar will be the other incoming junior, along with Leonard, for the men’s basketball team. Like Leonard, Farquhar has some notable experience in his past: He played at Middle Tennessee State his freshman year.
This experience led Spoonhour to say that Farquhar and Leonard both have played against legit competition in the past, something that will help both of them when coming to Eastern.
In a press release Tuesday, Spoonhour added that Farquhar is a great defensive player and does a tremendous job of moving the ball and getting teammates shots.
“I believe I’ll be able to help the team in many ways. Having Division I experience I understand that you need to compete every day to be able to contend in your conference,” Farquhar said. “And on the other hand I believe that I will be able to make a lot of plays for my teammates and I.”
This past season, Farquhar started 29 games at South Plains College in Texas and averaged 8.3 points, 4.3 rebounds and 3.9 assists per game, according to the press release. He led his team in assists, and his 3.9 per game is almost a whole assist more than Eastern’s leader this past season (Marvin Johnson, who averaged just under three per game).
As a freshman at Middle Tennessee State, Farquhar played in all 32 games, according to the press release, and he was third on the team in steals.
Farquhar mentioned that during the recruiting process, Eastern reached out to him, and the Eastern staff went to a few of his practices and games.
“What made the decision easy, was the relationship with the coach and the vision they have for me,” he said. “But most importantly they won (17 games) last season and I wanted to join a winning team that has a chance to make the tournament.”
As a guard who can get teammates shots and is a good defender, Farquhar has the chance of filling the hole left by guard Shareef Smith, as well as pairing up with Deang Deang to form a formidable backcourt defensive duo.
Abraham (6-feet) hails from Cambridge, Minn, and he is one of three incoming freshmen that have signed to play with Eastern this upcoming season.
He said about a month ago, he reached out to Eastern’s staff; shortly thereafter, Eastern assistant coach Rand Chappell reached out to Abraham, then Spoonhour talked with him.
“(Henry and Spoonhour) talked a lot about game style as well as what he looks for in a point guard,” Jason Abraham, Henry’s father, said. “Henry has only had positive things to say about every interaction with the Eastern staff.”
Jason Abraham said he was excited when his son decided he was going to play for Eastern.
“Coach Spoonhour has called me as well as my wife Sandy. He also called Henry’s high school coach Mike McDonald,” Jason Abraham said. “Even though we could not meet in person we all could tell coach Spoonhour was a great coach and person, and genuinely was interested in Henry not just as a player, but as who he could become as a person.”
Both Jason and Henry mentioned that what they believe Eastern liked in Henry’s game was his shooting ability and feel for the game, which included his ability to pass the ball well and get teammates involved.
“Henry is good at getting guys shots,” Spoonhour said.
In a press release Wednesday, Spoonhour added that Abraham is an outstanding shooter, and that he likes how smart and hardworking Abraham is.
Henry Abraham mentioned that his shooting was a signature part of his game, but this past year as a senior, he said he improved his ability to finish at the rim and developed a consistent mid-range jump shot.
On top of that, Abraham mentioned that Spoonhour liked one specific play he saw of his: “I had a pretty decent shot, but I passed it up to a teammate who was wide open,” Abraham said.
This is something that Spoonhour has commended his players on before: Once this past season, Mack Smith had a decent three-point shot he could have taken, but instead passed it to a teammate who was even more open. Spoonhour commended Smith for making the play, especially since Smith had not made a three-pointer yet in that game and still needed to make one to keep his streak of consecutive games with a three-pointer made alive.
As far as what Abraham liked about Eastern, he mentioned that he wanted to join a good team, and Eastern will be returning a lot of players, including Eastern’s main scorers. He envisioned himself as being able to be a facilitator with those kinds of scorers around him.
Abraham mentioned that he fell in love with basketball as early as age three, then in fourth grade is when he started taking it more seriously by joining an AAU team.
His aspirations to play at the Division I level started building his freshman year of high school, he said. Abraham said he played against a Division I caliber player, saw how technically sound and good he was, and thought to himself that was what he had to be like to get to the next level.
In his senior season, Abraham averaged 33.6 points per game, with six 40-plus-point games and one 50-point game, according to the press release. He also led the state in three-pointers made with 145 and averaged 4.7 rebounds and seven assists per game.
The hometown player, Miller will join Eastern’s roster as a preferred walk-on. Miller was named an Apollo All-Conference Second Team player after his senior season this past year.
Miller averaged a team-high 12.4 points per game for Charleston High School, and his 52 three-pointers were the most on the team, according to the JG-TC. He also averaged four rebounds per game.
Miller said his recruitment process did not really start until halfway through the high school season, and he said he was talking to a few Division III schools and junior colleges.
But around mid-January, his high school coach, Brad Oakley, pulled him aside and told him there was a chance he would be able to play at Eastern as a preferred walk-on.
“I didn’t hear directly from from coach Spoonhour until like march when he called me and just gave me the rundown of what being a preferred walk-on is and what it can turn into, and then from there he pretty much asked if I wanted to walk on and I was all for it,” Miller said.
He added that what Spoonhour told him he likes about him is that he is young and he sees Miller changing physically over the next few years. Miller added that Spoonhour said he likes Miller’s ability to handle the ball at his height (6-feet-3-inches).
Spoonhour said he has seen Miller play for a while, and Spoonhour said that as a walk-on, like he was, you have a mindset of doing whatever you can to help the team.
“Playing for my hometown university is really exciting, just knowing that I’m going to be representing the university and the community is a really cool feeling,” Miller said.
If Jadon Wallace’s last name looks familiar, that is because it is; Eastern fans have been accustomed to seeing Josiah Wallace light up the scoreboard for Eastern the past two seasons, and now they will be able to see Jadon Wallace, Josiah’s younger brother, join him.
And if it was not already clear, Jadon Wallace mentioned that his big brother was a big reason why he chose to go to Eastern.
“(Coach Spoonhour) had asked my brother previously if I had any offers back in January and I didn’t so he told Josiah that if I didn’t get any that I should walk-on and they didn’t tell me for a few months to keep my head focused,” Jadon Wallace said.
Jadon added that when they told him, he knew that he wanted to play a year with his brother because they never played on the same team together before.
“I think playing with his brother will be cool for them,” Spoonhour said.
“Playing with him will be awesome because there aren’t a whole lot of people that get to play Division I basketball with their siblings,” Jadon said.
Wallace averaged 16 points per game his senior season, while averaging 5 rebounds and 3.3 assists per game, according to an Eastern press release posted Friday, which announced Wallace’s and Miller’s signings. Wallace was also named a first-team All-Little Illini Conference player.
“(Spoonhour) liked my defense and my quickness,” Wallace said. He added that Spoonhour said he needs to work on his ball handling a little bit, but should be fine.
Dillan Schorfheide can be reached at [email protected]