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Two transfers join IWU men's team

By CHUCK LANDIS - clandis@chronicle-tribune.com

Indiana Wesleyan University men’s basketball has two more additions for the upcoming season and lost another unexpectedly.

Coach Greg Tonagel announced two transfers, Tanner Rubio and Michael Thompson, will join the Wildcats for 2019-20 and confirmed sophomore Grant Smith has been dismissed from the team.

The two transfers join three incoming freshmen recruits to replenish the ‘Cats following a 30-6 season and No. 1 ranking in the NAIA Division II final regular season poll. Rubio will be a fifth-year senior, while Thompson has two remaining years of eligibility.

Rubio, a 6-foot guard from Maitland, Florida, near Orlando, started 25 of 93 games he played over three seasons for NCAA Division I Jacksonville University (Florida) and last year averaged 3.4 points. Thompson started at Mount Vernon High (Fortville) and played two years at Trevecca Nazarene University, a NCAA Division II school in Nashville, Tennessee.

“We’ve got a bunch of good players and now we’ve got to figure out how it will all work,” Tonagel said Wednesday evening.

The Wildcats already lost starters Evan Maxwell and Joel Okafor and top reserve Trevor Waite to graduation, all who helped IWU sweep the Crossroads League regular season and tournament championships. Now with Smith’s dismissal, the Cats’ must replace 50 percent of the scoring and 46 percent of the rebounding from last year’s team.  

Smith started 31 of 35 games and was the ‘Cats’ third-leading scorer with a 10.9-point average, featuring a high-point game of 31 on Feb. 9 against Huntington University. The 6-foot-6 forward also contributed 4.3 rebounds and led the team with 4.3 assists.

Tonagel acknowledged Smith, a 2017 IndyStar Indiana All-Star from Connersville, was dismissed for a team infraction and will not be given a chance to return. His future plans are unknown, according to Tonagel.

“Grant will not be returning — he is done,” Tonagel said. “It’s too bad. It was a decision our coaching staff unfortunately had to make.”

Thompson, 6-5 and 185 pounds, offers elite athletic ability and will be a candidate to step into Smith’s role. He did not play last season but in 2017-18 started 28 games at Trevecca and averaged 10.2 points and 4.6 rebounds.

“He’s 6-5 and a pretty big-time athlete who has really grown in skill over the last couple years,” Tonagel said. “He’s another versatile kid and can do both (forward and guard). We recruited him in high school and he had been on campus so he’s familiar with us.”

At Mount Vernon, Thompson was a teammate of Taylor University forward James McCloud, and in his senior year (2015-16) the Mauraders finished 18-5. He was a two-year team captain and in 68 prep games collected 526 points, 334 rebounds, 180 assists, 55 steals and 47 blocks.

After scoring 49 points in 20 games at Trevecca as a freshman, Thompson had a breakout sophomore season that included 35 percent 3-point shooting (33-of-95) and 73.2 percent at the free throw line (52-of-71). He tied for the team lead with 39 steals and was third with 56 assists.

Rubio’s specialty is 3-point shooting and last year at Jacksonville connected on 32 percent of his attempts (26-of-81). In his junior year, Rubio ranked second with 57 3-point baskets and averaged 7.7 points.

“He’s a pretty big-time shooter and great passer,” Tonagel said of Rubio. “You get a senior and he brings in some maturity and we’re a young team next year. There’s a lot of skills that he brings, but there’s also the intangibles of leadership that we will count on right away.”

Jacksonville coach Tony Jasick previously was at Indiana-Purdue-Fort Wayne (2011-14) and has connections with Tonagel and IWU’s staff. Tonagel said he picked up Rubio on Jasick’s recommendation.

“He is a kid that really fits us,” Tonagel said of Rubio, who can fill the point and off-guard roles.

The other newcomers for 2019-20 are 6-6 forward Timothy Adetukasi from Brentwood, England; 6-1 point guard Noah Smith from Hamilton Southeastern, Fishers, and 6-foot point guard Spencer Piercefield from Center Grove, Greenwood. Adetukasi arrived on campus at mid-term after attending a Christian school in California.

“I’m excited about the guys who are here,” Tonagel said. “Everybody has fully bought in and I think we’ll have a unified team. We’re going to be young and we have some things to work out, but that’s part of the excitement — who’s going to be the guys who step up this year and go to that next level.

“I’m excited to work with these guys over the summer and watch that unfold,” he added. “This could be one of the deepest teams we’ve ever had. We could go 9 or 10 deep, which we haven’t done in a while.”

Tonagel said he doesn’t intend to make any further additions for the 2019-20 season.