Dan Weber’s Just Sayin’: From TMU hoops’ new look, to here comes football

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No question with the official move to NCAA Division II in a year, Thomas More basketball will look a bit different from the team that finished as an NAIA national semifinalist in Kansas City this past March.

But with a potential four starters back, maybe not all that different for its last season as an NAIA program competing in the Mid-South Conference. But the first change came when redshirt senior All-American Ryan Batte, who had another season of eligibility and had as good a year as anyone in NAIA basketball, decided not to return. The 6-foot-6 do-everything from Cincinnati’s Oak Hills High School, averaged 21.5 points and 7.4 rebounds a game.

The first hope here was that Robertson County’s Justin Becker, the 6-8 wing who finished second in the state in scoring with 32.5 points a game (behind only Holy Cross’ Jacob Meyer’s 38.2) would be the guy. But after working TMU’s summer basketball camp and showing the skills that made it clear he could play right away, Becker let the TMU staff know that he was having second thoughts about college and wasn’t ready to leave home.

So that’s a couple of tough shots for TMU hoops. But with the move to Division II just a year away, Coach Justin Ray has been busy developing a new-look Saints roster. Here are four new names, including a pair of Division I transfers that you could see in Crestview Hills this season, although one of them will not be exactly new for Northern Kentucky basketball fans.

*** Matt Smith, a 6-6, 225-pound transfer from Murray State’s NCAA team, from Charlotte, N.C., who will have three years to play.

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*** Kyle Ross, a 6-7, 215-pound sophomore from Wisconsin-Milwaukee out of Saint John, Ind., who will have three seasons of eligibility.

*** Abba Lawal, a 7-foot post player and transfer from Alabama A&M, has verbally committed. He’s originally from Nigeria but a Cincinnati resident since he was 15 who attended both Withrow and Walnut Hills high schools. Lawal is a sophomore with three seasons of eligibility left.

*** Scott Draud, the all-time Northern Kentucky high school scoring leader from Beechwood. The 6-5 shooting guard is a transfer from Kentucky Wesleyan who redshirted as a freshman at KWC and has four years of eligibility left.

Also on the roster will be Dixie Heights alum Billy Wogenstahl, a 6-8 freshman who averaged 15.5 points and 8.9 rebounds for the Ninth Region runner-up Colonels, joining Dixie’s Kiernan Geraci at TMU.

TMU WOMEN at work as well adding Ninth Region pair. Ludlow’s Jenna Lillard was a long-time commit to the NAIA national champion TMU women. But Jeff Hans has also signed Newport Central Catholic’s Rylee Turner, a Kentucky All-Star teammate of Lillard’s who averaged 26.3 points and 8.8 rebounds a game. Both Turner and Lillard (22.7 points, 11.6 rebounds) finished in the Top 10 scorers in Kentucky (Turner at No. 2, Lillard at No. 9) and joined the 2,000-point club on the same day in March.

NKSHOF 40-YEAR SUMMER REUNION: In the second summer event to raise funds for college scholarships, the Northern Kentucky Sports Hall of Fame will host its annual Awards Night/Scholarship Fundraiser, Wednesday, Aug. 17, at The Garden of Park Hills, 1622 Dixie Highway, from 5-9 p.m. The $10 tickets cover food with a cash bar, a split-the-pot, and all sorts of door prizes. Last year, the NKSHOF was able to award a total of seven $1,000 Jack Aynes scholarships.

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After raising more than $8,000 at the golf outing last week, it looks like the NKSHOF is well on its way. Feature of the night, highlighted by guest speaker John Brannen, the former NKU and University of Cincinnati basketball coach, will be five special awards. Bill Cappel Volunteerism: Mel Webster; Pat Scott Lifetime Achievement-Nancy WInstel; James “Tiny” Steffen Humanitarian-Judi Gerding; James Claypool Pioneer-Robert Griffin; Tom Fricke Service-Teddy Kremer.

COVCATH DEDICATES NEW FIELDHOUSE Friday, Aug. 5. “We are excited to unveil premier high school athletic performance facility in the Midwest,” is the way CovCath AD Tony Bacigalupo describes the new center that will be unveiled at 11 a.m. that day. The invitation reads “Covington Catholic High School and the Cincinnati Bengals invite you to the grand opening . . .” The Bengals are a part of this, Bacigalupo says, as a result of a grant from the team for the facility.

IT WAS ONCE CALLED ‘AUGUST PRACTICE’ because that’s when high school football started in earnest with full-time summer preseason sessions. Not anymore. With the need to get the playoffs finished before basketball starts in December, we have season start creep for football now. Defending state champs Beechwood will take on Ohio power Lakota West in a seven-on-seven scrimmage Tuesday as football just gets earlier and earlier everywhere.

The season will kick off here with a full slate of 11 games Friday, Aug. 19, as CovCath hosts Cincinnati Elder with Lexington Henry Clay at Conner, Covington Holy Cross at Bellevue, George Rogers Clark at Cooper, Ludlow at Gallatin County, Grant County at Holmes, Ryle at Lexington Catholic, Newport at Mason County, Simon Kenton at Oldham County, Boone County at Russell, and Scott at Walton-Verona. Beechwood will open again the next day, Saturday, at Louisville Fairdale.

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