By BRIAN LESTER
You have to admire the job head coach Charlie Ernst has done in bringing in quality talent. He has picked up where his mentor Ron Niekamp left off after retiring in 2011. Ernst’s latest recruiting class features five players who will all but assure the Oilers continue their trend of success, success that has been as consistent as it gets in small-college basketball.
Heck the Oilers are as consistent as it gets at any level of college hoops.
I’m willing to bet very few teams have won 20 or more games for 13 consecutive seasons. Part of that success has to do with the fact that the coaches do a great job of developing talent rather than load up on junior college or Division I transfers.
The five players in this year’s class — Adam Twining, Tyler Arens, Elijah Kahlig, Nick Ruthsatz and Tarren Sullivan — all have the potential to make an impact for the Oilers, perhaps even as early as this coming season.
“We never recruit a player with the mindset that they are going to redshirt,” Ernst said. “Every player we bring in knows they will have a chance to compete for playing time because we are a fair program. If you earn the time, we are going to play you.”
We saw that this past season with Austin Gardner and Ricardo Smith both playing immediately. Quaran Jones, coming off a redshirt year, made an impact as well as the season went along while Tyler Stern-Tucker kept working hard in practice each day and eventually became a valuable player off the bench.
As for the new class, well, they all come from strong high school teams. Twining grew up around the UF program, attending games as a child, and the forward was a first-team All-Three Rivers Athletic Conference selection for Findlay High. He averaged 15 points, six rebounds and three assists per game as a senior.
Arens is from Muncie Central in Indiana. The forward/center average 16 points and nine rebounds per game last season while shooting 54 percent from the field. He was a 40-percent shooter from beyond the arc.
Of course, we can’t forget about the younger Kahlig, who likely has the Great Lakes Intercollegiate Athletic Conference dreading the thought of dealing with another Kahlig for four more years. Elijah’s brother, Greg, just wrapped up an All-American season where he finsihed as the fourth-leading scorer in the nation and was named the GLIAC Player of the Year. Kahlg scored 40 or more three times, including 55 in a conference tournament game against Walsh.
The younger Kahlig has big shoes to fill, but don’t think for a moment that he isn’t up for the challenge. He was the Midwest Athletic Conference Player of the Year at Fort Recovery and a second-team All-Ohio pick. The wing averaged 22 points, eight rebounds and three assists per game. He made 51 3-pointers.
Ruthsatz is a point guard with a ton of potential. He led his high school team, Covington Catholic, to its first ever state championship. And keep in mind there is only one class of basketball in Kentucky. Ruthsatz was named the MVP of the tournament while also earning all-region and all-state honors. He scored more than 1,800 points in his career, averaging 22 points per outing, and also averaged six assists, four rebounds and three steals per game as a senior.
Sullivan averaged 21 points and seven rebounds per game as a senior and helped lead Lima Bath to a 20-5 record and appearance in a regional final. He was a first-team All-Western Buckeye League pick and a third-team All-Ohio selection.
All five freshmen have a will to win and know what it takes to succeed. Will they go through their growing pains as freshmen at UF? Of course. But ultimately, they have the potential to be effective players right out of the gate.
They will join a team that returns three starters and is coming off a 24-6 record that was highlighted by a third consecutive GLIAC tournament championship. No other team in league history has ever done it. The Oilers also played in the NCAA tournament for the 12th time in program history.
Practices will be competitive, and earning playing time won’t be easy, but ultimately, that competition will only make the Oilers better in the long run.
“Competition makes your team better,” Ernst said. “We have brought in guys who have a winning mindset, and when you have that you rise to the occasion in practice and in games. We are excited about all of the players we have signed, and they will be great additions to the team.”
No doubt about it. And with another strong class coming in to join a team already loaded with talent, the Oilers are poised to continue a run of success that few other programs ever get a chance to enjoy.
Follow me on Twitter: @BLester1993.