The Saint Francis men’s basketball program has shot the ball nearly seven percent more accurately than its opposition has this season, including five percent better from 3-point range. So it is obvious that the Cougars value defensive effort from its players, as well as offensive skill, and that is precisely why veteran coach Chad LaCross recruited Huntington North High School senior Hunter Hollowell so hard.Hollowell committed to the Saint Francis program Tuesday and he’ll bring offensive ability to the Cougars immediately, and eventually the same impact could be made defensively, according to LaCross.
"For his size, the way he shoots it, we really liked that aspect," LaCross told The News-Sentinel. "But he does a lot more than just shoot. Defensively, he is really active."
The 6-foot-5 Hollowell is averaging over 18 points per game this season and has helped the Vikings to a 17-7 record, including a perfect 7-0 mark in winning the Northeast Eight Conference title."He communicates well with his teammates," LaCross said. "He can also put it on the floor a little bit."
Hollowell has made 42 percent of his 3-point shots this year (75 total) and when he does drive the ball and gets fouled, he is deadly accurate from the free throw line. He has sunk 85 of 96 free throws this season.
"With the way we play," LaCross explained, "I feel like he really fits our style."
Hollowell will bring length to both ends of the court and LaCross envisions that being beneficial. He has averaged over five rebounds per game this season and is regarded as one of the Vikings’ better defenders, if not their best.
"He is very good on the perimeter," LaCross said of Hollowell’s shooting, "and he can stretch the defenses. With his length, he can add something for us at the defensive end, as well."
The Cougars will graduate seniors Kyle Sovine (center), as well as guards Brogan Gary, Kegan Comer, and Kendan Lewis, so there will be competition for those available minutes next season. LaCross said that Hollowell will get a look, but he can enhance his opportunities if he works as hard in the weight room as he does the gym.
"Like with most freshmen," LaCross said, "if he really works at it in the weight room and gets stronger, he’s going to be able to guard all four (perimeter) positions for us. But offensively, he can shoot it and shoot it from deep."
The Cougars will enjoy their annual rite of passage into the month of March tonight by watching the NAIA Division II National Tournament Selection Show (7 p.m.).
Saint Francis is expecting to receive an at-large bid and has earned a bid to the national tournament (March 8, College of the Ozarks in Point Lookout, Mo.) six times in the past seven seasons. Not only have the Cougars played in the tournament, they have played very well.
Saint Francis has played for the national championship three times (winning in 2010), including last March.
"Not too many programs in the country can say that they have been to the national tournament six of the last seven years," LaCross said, "and compete at that level. We are very fortunate and definitely don’t take it for granted, especially after what we went through this year."
The Cougars were the No. 1-ranked team in the NAIA for the first month-plus of this season as they raced out to an 11-0 start. However, they went through a stretch of 11 games in which they lost seven, and the national tourney was beginning to slip out of their sight.
"Every team goes through ups and downs," LaCross said, "and our down lasted longer than it had for the last 10 years, probably."
But it didn’t last forever.
Saint Francis has won seven of its last 10 games, including a very impressive 80-72 win over Crossroads League champion Bethel in the final week of the regular season.
"We still found a way to continue to work," LaCross said. "We continued to come in each and every day to have that goal of making it to the national tournament. These guys got it done.
"It definitely means a lot, because I feel like we are talented enough to go out there, really compete and make a run."