Wright State basketball: Raiders still have unclaimed starting spot with opener looming

FAIRBORN — Wright State coach Scott Nagy has had five weeks of preseason practice — along with all of those structured, staff-run summer workouts — to come up with a fifth starter to play beside his star-studded returning quartet.

But with just a few days to go before the opener against Lake Erie College on Tuesday, he’s still sifting through his options.

That’s not necessarily a bad sign. The Raiders have been recruiting at a higher level than their Horizon League peers, and they have no shortage of candidates for that spot.

“There have been discussions (among the coaches) of 11 different guys in the starting lineup,” Nagy said. “We’re probably going to rotate eight, so three guys we’ve discussed as actually starting for us probably won’t play much.

“The guys know” how competitive it is. “I’ve talked to them about it. Trying to get all that figured out is what we’re working on.”

A name that keeps popping as the fifth starter with post Grant Basile, wings Tanner Holden and Tim Finke and point guard Trey Calvin is one that’s familiar to only the most ardent Raider supporters.

“A guy nobody talks about who has done a really good job for us is Andy Neff,” Nagy said of the walk-on from Oakwood.

The 6-foot-7, 215-pound senior has played in only 26 of 91 games at Wright State with career highs of six points and three rebounds. But he’d be a good fit because he can play the 5 spot, allowing the 6-9 Basile to maximize his scoring potential as a stretch 4.

And when Nagy floats the idea of starting a walk-on, it’s not some ploy to motivate Neff’s more heralded teammates.

“I’ve been saying this: If all of our players had the attitude and heart of Andy, nobody would beat us — nobody,” Nagy said. “He’s worked himself into, honestly, a chance to play for us.

“It’s just because of his heart more than anything. The players see it and know it. And if he played, they’d understand it because he gives everything we preach about and have been looking for. He works hard, and it may pay off for him.”

Another candidate for the 5 spot is C.J. Wilbourn, who transferred from Milwaukee, The 6-7, 235-pound junior averaged 5.7 points and 2.9 rebounds last season and made the league’s 2019-20 all-freshman team.

Two other front-court possibilities have been held back by injuries.

James Manns, a 6-7, 210-pound senior, missed most of preseason practice with a sprained knee. And though the Raiders already have plenty of scoring punch, he’s the most explosive player on the roster.

When Loudon Love was out with a fractured elbow in 2019-20, Manns had 26 points and eight rebounds in 21 minutes against Southern and 19 points and eight boards in 21 minutes the next game against Mississippi Valley State.

He’s 35 of 82 on 3′s in his career (42.7%) and has scored 221 points in 331 minutes.

Brandon Noel, a 6-8, 235-pound redshirt freshman, has the frame and skills to help. But he missed all of last season with a serious knee injury and is still getting acclimated to the college game.

“Talent-wise, he’s got it all: He’s athletic. He shoots it. He handles it. Mentally is where he has to put it together, and it just takes a while for that,” Nagy said.

The Raiders certainly didn’t impress their coach in their preseason scrimmages against Eastern Kentucky and Ball State. Nagy called one of the showings “an eye-opener” — and not in a good way.

“We just have a little bit of entitlement. We’ve got guys who have gotten attention, and it can easily creep in — even in the coaching staff,” he said.

“Everyone is telling you what a great job you do, and you can lose your hunger very quickly.”

But Basile, Finke and Calvin have all missed time with assorted ailments, which has hurt their chemistry. And Nagy puts some of the blame for the malaise on himself.

His father, Dick Nagy, passed away on Oct. 6 after a lengthy battle with leukemia. And the coach, understandably, was sidetracked while dealing with his loss.

“I’ve been a bit distracted because of my dad,” he said. “I’m just starting to see things normally again, and I’m around (practice) and not as distracted. Hopefully, that will help.”


Lake Erie at Wright State, 7 p.m., ESPN3,+, 103.9

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