BY: Richard W. Humphrey
UNIVERSITY PARK, Texas – The school year came to a close on the Hilltop, but there is still news to report. The Mustangs recently made two announcements about next season’s basketball schedule. The team will play in the “Battle 4 Atlantis” Tournament over Thanksgiving weekend. This tournament is played in the Bahamas, and the Mustang Club has already put together travel packages for their fans.
The field of opponents is eye catching. The seven other teams that will be participating are Villanova, Purdue, Arizona, Tennessee, North Carolina State, Western Kentucky, and Northern Iowa.
In other scheduling news, the American Athletic Conference announced the pairings for Men’s conference play this year. Wichita State has been added to the conference for basketball only. They have been a quality program for years and will surely boost the respect for the conference. With 12 teams, the format will have each team playing seven opponents twice on a home and home basis, and four other teams just once.
For the Mustangs, the four teams they’ll face just once this season are Memphis and Temple at home and Tulsa and Connecticut on the road. SMU will thus play, Houston, Tulane, Wichita State, South Florida, Central Florida, Cincinnati, and East Carolina twice.
The news wasn’t so good for Mustang fans last month regarding Honorable Mention All American Semi Ojeleye. He had earlier declared for the NBA draft, but left the door open to return next season by not engaging an agent. There was optimism that he would test the NBA waters, and if the projected draft position didn’t suit him, he might return. He is generally projected to be a late first round selection at best, and more likely a second round pick.
However, those hopes of his return have been dashed. Ojeleye performed at the NBA Combine and announced that he is definitely staying in the draft and has begun the process of selecting an agent However, the draft is swiftly approaching – this Thursday, and he has still not engaged an agent, so there is a sliver of hope that he returns. However, the likelihood is that he is gone.
Ojeleye tweeted his decision to engage an agent in which he paid respects to both Larry Brown and Tim Jankovich. “Coach Brown told me that SMU would be the best place for me when I transferred, and he was the main reason I came to the school,” he told Dylan Parego of The Score web site. “Even though unfortunate circumstances caused him to have to leave the program before the (2016-17) season began, having him as a mentor this past year was incredible. Playing under Coach Jankovich this year was a huge blessing, and I can’t thank him enough for instilling confidence in me and helping me develop day after day.”
Ojeleye also commented on the SMU fans assuring that he will never forget the support they showed.
That leaves the Mustangs with just three returning scholarship players from last year’s 30-6 team – starters Shake Milton and Jarrey Foster, and sixth man Ben Emolugu. Freshman Deshawn McDowell transferred to Seattle University to wipe out last fall’s freshman recruiting class altogether, as Harry Froling and Tom Wilson transferred after the first semester. However, walk-on James Pyle is expected to return. Another walk-on with a familiar name will be joining the team. Freshman Luke Wilfong, Jonathan’s younger brother will be on the team.
Make no mistake about it though, the Mustangs are not going away as a factor in the American Athletic Conference. They add three transfers – Jimmy Whitt, Jahmal McMurray and Akoy Agau. Whitt sat out last season per the transfer rules, so will be eligible when the season begins. McMurray will be eligible in December when the fall semester ends. Agau is a fifth year player transferring from Georgetown that will be eligible immediately.
McMurray and Whitt are guards that are quality players that likely will join Milton as the three core scorers next season. They are good enough to play at an All-Conference level. Agau is a 6′-8″ forward that will provide depth inside.
There is also a highly regarded freshman class of four. Undoubtedly, the team will need some significant contributions from them to return to the Top 25 and win 25 games as they have done the past four seasons. The Mustangs are likely to start slowly as they did last season, but Mustang fans should have every expectation of another 20 plus win season, an NCAA bid, and perhaps even a finish in the Top 25.
The Mustangs did get another exciting committment. Isiaha Mike is transferring from Duquesne. He is a 6′-9″ forward that drew interest from top programs. He particularly cited Ojeleye as a reason for selecting SMU. He feels he is a similar player, and wants the coaching that propelled Ojeleye to All-American status. Mike will sit out next season per the transfer rules and will be eligible for the 2018-19 season. He has three years of eligibility remaining. He is already in Dallas for summer workouts with the team.
SMU also announced that they will host Southern Cal at Moody Coliseum on Saturday, December 2. The Trojans accounted for two of the Mustangs’ six losses last season, and will be the showcase game of the non-conference home schedule. Boise State is also on the home portion of the non-conference schedule.
The intersquad football game on April 8 wrapped up spring football for SMU. There was certainly lots to be excited about. There is every reason to believe that six wins and a bowl game is the LEAST to be expected from Chad Morris’s third edition of Mustang football. A serious challenge for the conference championship is not out of the question with the talent Morris has assembled and a favorable schedule.
The offensive line looks beefed up with last year’s red shirts adding strength and depth. Courtland Sutton, who will be named on pre-season All-American teams, chose to return rather than go pro.
A big question is always at quarterback. Last year, redshirt freshman Ben Hicks took over in game one for the injured Matt Davis and started all the final 11 games. He looked good in the spring game completing 11 of 17 passes for 114 yards. Unlike last year though, there is depth at the position. Transfer Rafe Peavey completed 16 of 18 passes for 173 yards. D. J. Gillens is a junior college transfer that did not participate in the spring game because he was injured. Some insiders think he’s the best of three and predict that he’ll end up being the starter.
After the game, Morris said that Hicks is the starter now, but it is nice to have options if plan A doesn’t work out.
The program has also received a talent boost from three transfers. Oregon State offensive lineman Will Hopkins is a fifth year transfer that will be eligible immediately. He is 6′-7″, 295 pounds and likely slides in at one of the offensive tackle slots. He’ll enroll in the Cox School of Business Master of Science in Management program.
Defensive lineman Dimarya Mixon announced that he is leaving Tennessee to join SMU. Mixon went to High School at West Mesquite. He’s listed at 6′-4″, 260. He is also expected to be eligible this fall.
The Mustangs also are getting Richard Moore, a linebacker that has played two seasons at Texas A&M. He was a three star prospect coming out of Cedar Hill High School. He will sit out the 2017 season per the transfer rules and have two years of eligibility remaining.
As for next year’s recruiting, the Mustangs are getting a good reception. SMU already has 13 “hard” commits according to 24/7 sports. All 13 are from the state of Texas.
* The Mustangs are scheduled to play at Michigan in the 2018 season. The game is scheduled for September 15 in Ann Arbor.