Walter McCarty has said all the exciting things about how Evansville will play under his watch. Pushing the ball. Shooting without hesitation. Playing fast.
“We’re coming at you fast pace and with a lot of movement,” McCarty said.
It seems players are buying what the first-year coach is selling. On Monday, the Aces signed Kansas transfer Sam Cunliffe, adding another layer to what had already been a productive offseason.
It started with McCarty landing three-star small forward DeAndre Williams, a prep prospect that reportedly held offers from Baylor, Oklahoma State and Houston. The Evansville Courier & Press called Williams the program’s highest-rated recruit in “recent memory,” and McCarty seemed especially giddy about him in a release.
“His ability to make guys better, make shots and get to the rim is really special. He has the opportunity to be a very good basketball player here, he has the chance to be one of the best to ever play at UE.”
The Aces followed that up by landing Coastal Carolina transfer Artur Labinowicz. The guard will have two seasons of eligibility after sitting out the 2018-19 season, and comes with big-time three-point potential. He played consistent minutes over his two years at CCU (24.4 MPG), and while he regressed from distance in a bigger role as a sophomore (33.8% on 148 3PA), he does come in as a 36.1 percent career three-point shooter.
That type of floor spacing will be what McCarty will also expect from Cunliffe, the jewel of Evansville’s offseason. The guard will also have two years of eligibility left after sitting out next season. The top-40 prep prospect originally signed with Arizona State, and adds high major athleticism and scoring potential to the Aces’ roster, even if he couldn’t crack the Jayhawks’ rotation (4.9 MPG in 2017-18).
“Even though we hate to see Sam leave, we totally respect his decision,” Self said in a university release. “Sam has been terrific since he’s been here. He’s been a great teammate. He’s been a guy that has put forth the effort and it hasn’t translated to playing time for him yet. I respect this because the opportunity for him to impact another program would probably be greater now, than it would be a year from now. We wish him the best. We’ll always be a fan and pull for him.”
Cunliffe reportedly considered Xavier and Washington, among others, and told the Lawrence Journal-World that “this Evansville thing is a lot better than some might think.” That kind of early recruiting win may represent the dream scenario for the Aces.
McCarty was by no means an out-of-the-box hire, but the Boston Celtics assistant had not been in the college game since a three-year stint as a Louisville assistant ended in 2010. Since getting the job, he’s assembled an impressive staff that includes former Butler/Iowa coach Todd Lickliter and former South Alabama coach Matthew Graves (who was once Brad Stevens’ right hand man at Butler). And with his NBA pedigree, the Evansville native and NCAA champion figured to be able to pull in talent like he has thus far.
The Aces enjoyed a run of respectability over Marty Simmons’ 11 seasons in charge, and the DJ Balentine era probably deserved better than a heart-breaking loss to Northern Iowa in the last seconds of the 2016 MVC Tournament final. But the Aces had gone just 13-23 in league play since then and a change made sense.
To this point, McCarty seems to be validating that he was right hire.