With the addition of forward George Blaj-Voinescu on Wednesday, Minnesota Crookston men’s basketball has finalized its 11-member recruiting class for the 2020-21 season.
The Golden Eagles are bringing back five players — forward Ibu Jassey Demba, guard Tyrese Shines, guard Brian Sitzmann, guard Zach Westphal and wing Quintin Winterfeldt — from last year’s team which went 11-18. They’re losing all-time leading scorer Harrison Cleary, as well as forwards Malcolm Cohen and Zac Olson and big men Chase Johnson and Javier Nicolau.
Here’s an overview of the 11 players who will look to help UMC reset. Players are listed in the order their commitment was announced.
Hunter Lyman (Fr., F/C)
Lyman, a 6’8, 215-pound big man from West Fargo, N.D., was the Golden Eagles’ only addition during the early signing period in November. As a junior at West Fargo H.S. a season ago, Lyman averaged 12.5 points, 8.1 rebounds and 1.6 blocks per game.
Head coach Dan Weisse envisions Lyman as a true center — perhaps the Golden Eagles’ only one — and said he’ll have an opportunity to carve out playing time as a freshman.
“He’s gotta keep working on his feet, the speed of the game, and get stronger,” Weisse said. “He’s got a good body, good frame, and I think he’s got a frame that can get bigger and stronger. … Hunter Lyman, in time, is going to be a good player in this league.”
Rafael Carton (Fr., F)
A native of the Canary Islands in Spain, Carton is one of UMC’s five international additions. He’s old for a freshman — he’ll turn 21 next March — and brings good size inside at 6’7, 230 pounds as well as a strong outside shot.
Carton averaged 15 points and 10 rebounds for Westminster School, a prep school in Connecticut, this season, starting every game.
“I see Rafa as a ‘4’ or ‘5’, really good pick-and-pop 4-man who can spread the floor,” Weisse said. “I also think he can go bang in there a little bit, even be a guy to get a post touch. If you look at his size, that’s tough to move a guy down there.”
Morgan Carter (Jr., F/C)
Weisse had recruited Carter when he went to Charnwood College, a prep school in England, a couple years back. Instead, the 6’7 Welshman took the NAIA and JUCO routes, playing a season at the University of the Cumberlands before transferring to highly-ranked Hillsborough CC as a sophomore. There, he started 21 of 27 games and averaged 6.3 points and 3.5 rebounds per game.
Carter earned a bronze medal competing with Wales’s U18 squad at the European Championships in 2015.
“He has a chance to compete to start at the five,” Weisse said. “Is he your traditional 6’10 plodder? No, but how many teams in our league have that? Probably not most.”
Georges Darwiche (Jr., G)
Darwiche is UMC’s first Division I transfer since Josh Collins transferred North Dakota in 2018. The 6’1 point guard started 10 games as a freshman at Siena, averaging 1.9 points and 0.9 assists, but was beset by injuries as a sophomore and appeared in just four games. He also experienced a coaching change after last season, which influenced his decision to transfer.
“This was kind of a case of knowing a guy that knew a guy,” Weisse said. “I don’t wanna say he fell in our lap, but it’s a win-win.”
Weisse hopes Darwiche, a pure point guard, can play a significant role on next year’s Golden Eagles. In 2017-18, the Romanian started 38 of 44 games for Steaua Bucuresti in Romania’s top basketball league, and has competed for his country’s senior national team since 2017.
Leonard Dixon (Jr., G/F)
The Damascus, Ore. native owns the distinction of being the last recruit to visit campus before the COVID-19 pandemic effectively shut the country down. The 6’7, 200-pound forward flew in from Oregon in March, met with Weisse, and committed shortly after returning home.
“He’s definitely a guy who can stretch the floor and shoot it,” Weisse said. “Everybody you talk to talks about his character and what he’ll do for Crookston, not just on the basketball court but off.”
Dixon was named to the NWAC All-Southern Region First Team at Mount Hood CC in Gresham, Ore. this season after averaging 19.3 points and 5.7 rebounds per game, while also shooting 43.6 percent from 3-point range.
Ethan Channel (Jr., G)
Weisse actually heard about Channel from Dixon — the two played a season together at Mount Hood in 2018-19. However, Channel transferred to Portland CC as a sophomore, where he was named to the NWAC Southern Region Second Team.
Channel, listed at 6’4 and 195 pounds, averaged 18.2 points and 6.0 rebounds per game this season, shooting 34.9 percent from beyond the arc.
Weisse described Channel, a native of Beaverton, Ore. as a versatile wing who can shoot, make plays and use his athleticism effectively.
Jaylen James (Fr., G)
The son of former Concordia-St. Paul head coach Joey James, James was committed to Briar Cliff earlier this year. He changed his mind, though, and signed with Minnesota Crookston last week.
The 6’1 guard from Apple Valley averaged 9.1 points per game for Eastview H.S., which was the No. 2 team in Class 4A before the cancellation of the season.
Weisse said that James can already shoot at a high level and has a strong feel for the game, but may need to redshirt as a freshman in order to get strong enough for college basketball.
Josh Dilling (Fr., G)
The 6’4 Dilling is from Weisse’s hometown of Oshkosh, Wisc., but starred for his rival high school, Oshkosh North, instead. He played on a state championship team led by future Iowa State star Tyrese Haliburton as a sophomore, before stepping out of Haliburton’s shadow and averaging 19.8 points, 5.4 rebounds and 4.7 assists per game as a senior.
“(Dilling) is a point guard, but he can also play a two or a three in our system,” Weisse said. “We’re not pigeonholing guys in our system. I see Josh as a point guard, but we want the best players on the floor.”
Weisse praised Dilling’s level of competition — the Fox Valley Conference, in his opinion, is one of the strongest in Wisconsin. Winterfeldt, from Waupun, is a product of the league as well.
Silas Xia (So., G)
Xia once played for St. John’s Northwestern Military Academy in Wisconsin, where he was coached by current Golden Eagle assistant Krayton Nash. Most recently, he played in 10 games at Santa Ana College in California last season, averaging 0.7 points and 0.4 rebounds per game.
Xia is a native of Guangzhou, China.
“Coach Nash talked about (Xia’s) character and how he would do anything to better the team,” Weisse said in a release. “And after talking with Silas it was easy to see what (Nash) was talking about.”
Chandler Reeck (Fr., G)
Reeck had a somewhat star-crossed career at Edina H.S., having endured almost two years worth of injuries and rehab since his freshman season. He finished strong, though, averaging 6.5 points, 4.0 rebounds, 4.0 assists and 2.0 steals as a senior.
Reeck is listed at 6’1, 180 pounds.
“Chandler is looking for an opportunity to learn and grow, to get a high-level degree and play high-level basketball,” Weisse said in a release. “Chandler is a tough kid, and a high-IQ kid that can really shoot it.”
George Blaj-Voinescu (So., F)
Blaj-Voinescu is tied with Lyman as the tallest player on the Golden Eagles’ roster at 6’8. He’s also the Golden Eagles’ second Romanian, hailing from Brasov.
In Romania, Blaj-Voinescu played for CSU Stint Bucuresti, where he competed against Darwiche. This season, he played 11 games at Northeastern Oklahoma A&M, a junior college in Miami, Okla., where he averaged 3.9 points and 2.1 rebounds.
“George can play the four or five,” Weisse said in a release. “He has good size, he is willing to defend, rebound and make his teammates better. With that, he’s a guy that can score on the block or from the 3-point line.”
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