In the summer of 2011 Eric Katenda, who was a highly regarded prospect out of high school, suffered an eye injury that left him blind in his left eye. Due to various health issues, which included a nagging knee injury, Katenda played in a total of 17 games in South Bend. While there was the negative of not playing all that much, there was the positive of Katenda earning his bachelor’s degree.
That allows him to play immediately at any Division I school, and Friday the North Texas basketball program announced that Katenda has officially joined the program. While injuries have been an issue for Katenda throughout his career, hopefully the 2015-16 campaign can be a healthy one for him.
“I have so much respect for Eric,” Notre Dame head coach Mike Brey is quoted as saying of his former player in the release. “He battled so many physical setbacks but never felt sorry for himself. He is healthy now and will really help the North Texas team.”
Katenda joins a program that won’t lack for newcomers next season, as he’s one of eight players joining Tony Benford’s program who were not in Denton a season ago. The 6-foot-9 power forward will have one season of eligibility remaining.
2014-2015 Season Preview: Louisiana Tech the favorite in the ever-changing Conference USA
Conference realignment has been rampant the last few seasons, and Conference USA is still feeling the effects of it heading into the 2014-2015 season. Gone are East Carolina, Tulane and the league’s lone NCAA tournament team from last year, Tulsa. The conference welcomes in Western Kentucky as its newest member. If you’re scoring at home, that’s nine new programs and seven former members since 2013.
At least one thing looks to remain certain in 2014-2015, Louisiana Tech should finish atop the conference standings. The Bulldogs were one of four teams — Tulsa, Middle Tennessee and Southern Miss — to share the regular season title with a 13-3 record. Like previously mentioned, Tulsa left C-USA, Middle Tennessee lost four starters and Souther Miss is starting the Doc Sadler era after Donnie Tyndall accepted the Tennessee position.
Louisiana Tech returns plenty of key contributors, but none more important than head coach Michael White, who was in the conversation for several coaching vacancies this offseason.
The Bulldogs boast the league’s top back court with Kenneth ‘Speedy’ Smith running the show, Alex Hamilton back as the team’s top scorer and Raheem Appleby, who was sidelined for several weeks last season with an ankle injury. Michale Kyser mans the frontline with his 3.0 blocks per game, and he’ll be an important piece this season, as the Bulldogs’ biggest threat, UTEP, has two talented forwards.
The Miners may have finished fifth last season, but was only a game out of first in the top-heavy C-USA. Tim Floyd’s team is headlined by sophomore Vince Hunter and (12.5 ppg, 6.4 rpg) and Julian Washburn (13.1 ppg). Another team looking to make a run at the Bulldogs is newcomer, Western Kentucky. The Hilltoppers join the league from the Sun Belt, and have been to two of the last three NCAA tournaments. Ray Harper’s team is aided by senior guards T.J. Price and George Fant — the team’s top two scorers at 15.5 points and 13.3 points, respectively –who will help with the transition against better competition.
Along with Harper, C-USA has three new coaches. Mike Rhoades came over from VCU to take over at Rice while Michael Curry (Florida Atlantic) and Dan D’Antoni (Marshall) join the conference from the NBA sidelines, despite neither of them having college basketball coaching experience.
In: Western Kentucky Out: East Carolina, Tulane, Tulsa
PRESEASON CONFERENCE-USA PLAYER OF THE YEAR: Kenneth ‘Speedy’ Smith, Louisiana Tech
The 6-foot-3 guard averaged single-digits (7.8 ppg) last year, but he effected the game in so many other ways. He was second in the nation in assists (7.7 apg), was 10th in the nation with a 3.23 assist-to-turnover ratio, and he was also top 10 in the nation in steals at 2.5 per game. The senior guard was named Conference USA Defensive Player of the Year and is the only returning member of the league’s first-team from a season ago.
THE REST OF THE PRESEASON CONFERENCE-USA TEAM:
Alex Hamilton, Louisiana Tech: Another member of Louisiana Tech’s heralded back court. The 6-foot-4 guard averaged a team-high 14.5 points per game last season.
Pierria Henry, Charlotte: The 49ers top scorer from a season ago averaged 12.3 points, grabbed 5.1 boards and dished 5.8 assists per game.
Vince Hunter, UTEP: Hunter is coming off a great freshman campaign, averaging 12.5 points and 6.4 boards per game. Part of a talented front court duo with Julian Washburn.
T.J. Price, Western Kentucky: One of the top newcomers to the league averaged better than 15 points per game over the past two years in the Sun Belt.
After playing in 39 games over the course of two seasons at Texas A&M, guard J’Mychal Reese has decided where he’ll complete his college career.
Reese announced via his Twitter account that he’ll be joining Tony Benford’s program at North Texas, where he have two years of eligibility remaining. Reese averaged seven points and two rebounds last season in six games, with his time as a member of the Texas A&M program coming to an end in December.
North Texas has added six other newcomers to the program, with four being junior college transfers. The Mean Green, who finished the 2013-14 season with a 16-16 record, welcome back leading scorer Jordan Williams (12.0 ppg) with forward Colin Voss and guard T.J. Taylor back for their respective senior seasons as well.
It is expected that Reese will have to sit out the 2014-15 season per NCAA transfer rules, with the guard making his debut in 2015.
According to Jeff Goodman at CBSSports.com, the LSU Tigers are all set to hire North Texas’ Johnny Jones — a relative unknown outside of Baton Rouge — as their next head coach. Jones will take over for Trent Johnson, who, somewhat amusingly, went the other direction across the state line to take over at TCU last week.
Jones might not be a big name in coaching circles just yet, but many Tiger fans will be happy to see him back on campus. Jones is a former LSU player and coach who learned the trade from the great Dale Brown, and his candidacy has had vocal support from former Tiger luminaries like Rudy Macklin, Collis Temple, and Brown himself.
Jones helped take LSU to the 1981 Final Four as a player, and returned his alma mater to glory as an assistant coach in 1986. He began his head coaching career with an ill-fated 15-16 stint as interim head coach at Memphis in 2000, where he was one of two coaches to bridge the gap between Larry Finch and John Calipari. His time with the Mean Green of the Sun Belt was more productive, garnering two NCAA tourney trips out of the Sun Belt, and three straight 20-win seasons between 2008-11.
The first matter Jones will want to attend to is the re-recruitment of in-state SG Malik Morgan, who signed with Trent Johnson several months ago. Looking forward, his in-state ties may be just what the Tigers need to keep local stars like Ricardo Gathers (signed with Baylor), Javan Felix (Texas) and Michael Qualls (Arkansas) closer to home in the future.