Release courtesy of Ashland University's Sports Information Department
Ashland, Ohio -- At no time during this offseason did a realtor come to Kates Gymnasium and stick a sign in the ground proclaiming that the AU men's basketball team was on the market.
Never once did the Eagles go up for sale on eBay. There was no swap and shop on campus and no bill of sale was ever filed in the Ashland County Courthouse.
All of that being said, the 2011-12 men's basketball team has a new owner. He doesn't figure to be a silent partner either. The deed to this team belongs to 6-6, 240-pound junior forward Evan Yates (Cincinnati, Ohio/Walnut Hills). Good luck trying to wrest that away from him.
"He's now a junior," explained third year head coach John Ellenwood, whose Eagles open the season on Monday, Nov. 14 at Lock Haven. "Of all the guys on the team, he's been on the team the longest. He has to take ownership of where this program is going. He understands that. He's still young and we need to help foster his leadership skills. He's going in the right direction. He knows he has to be more of a vocal leader."
Yates was part of the starting lineup the past two years, but he wasn't acknowledged as Ashland's leader. That title belonged to forward-center Kale Richardson, a four-year starter and one of the GLIAC's leading scorers and rebounders.
Richardson, and much of the roster the last two years, was on campus when Ellenwood arrived. The past two years have been spent trying to mix and match players and philosophies. Last year's team finished 13-13, 7-12 in Great Lakes Intercollegiate Athletic Conference play. Many of the key players on that team were brought into the program by Ellenwood, but the team on the floor still was Richardson's. He averaged team highs of 14.8 ppg., and 7.0 rpg. At the most crucial moments, the Eagles looked to him to make plays. They tried to look to him off the floor as well.
As for Yates, he was mostly concerned about just getting on the floor.
"I definitely didn't," replied Yates when asked if he tried to be a leader as a freshman and sophomore. "I was confident I would play, but we had Kale and a couple of older guys. Me, being an undersized big man, I thought it would be hard to get minutes. I got my chance and capitalized on it."
Yates was Ellenwood's first recruit at Ashland. As a freshman, he played in 27 games, starting 14, and averaged 9.0 ppg., 4.7 rpg., and shot 60 percent (87-of-145) from the field. Last year, Yates started all 26 games and averaged 13.9 ppg. and 7.0 rpg. He led the GLIAC in field goal percentage (60.7 percent/133-of-219). Yates was a second team All-GLIAC South Division pick. Those numbers started to cement his status as a player who could be counted on night in and night out. Yet numbers alone don't make a team leader.
"After the first workouts Coach pulled me to the side and said, 'This is a whole new team," said Yates. "Now that I'm an upperclassman I have to take on more of a leadership role. I have to be around to lead the team on and off the court. I have to be Mr. Do-It-All. I have to get the guys in the gym, get more shots up, be more vocal."
At first glance, Yates may appear reticent to take on that responsibility. Like most freshmen, he didn't say a lot and toward the end of his rookie season he hit the wall that so many first-year players encounter. Last year, Yates began to show signs that the leadership mantle wouldn't burden him. He began to take on a larger role in all aspects of the program.
"He loves being the guy," said Ellenwood. "When you see him come in on game day, he loves being the guy who the other team focuses on defensively. He's taken his game to another level. Evan has that swag to him on game day. He has the confidence to be successful."
Part of that confidence comes from getting positive results on the court. The last two years formed a base for that. This past summer, Yates made a move to stretch his game even more. He played in the well-known Deveroes Summer League in the Cincinnati area.
"I put on weight, I ran and I lifted a lot more during the summer," said Yates. "I was playing against guys from Xavier, Cincinnati and older guys who had played overseas. We played two times a week, sometimes three times a week. I played against physical, grown men."
"He shifted weight in the right places," said Ellenwood. "He's stronger, more fleet of foot. That will pay dividends later in the year."
Ellenwood has a definite idea of how he wants Yates to look and play. Ellenwood is a former post player at the College of Wooster. He played on teams that regularly advanced to the NCAA Division III playoffs. Ellenwood coaches the Ashland post players and no matter who the Eagles play during the season, no one will be tougher on Yates than his mentor.
"At times it can be rough," admitted Yates. "He's (Ellenwood) definitely harder on the post players and he demands more of us than anybody else. That being said, he's taught me a lot, the physicality of coming from high school to college."
"My coaches were hard on me when I was playing and it was hard until I understood what their expectations were," said Ellenwood. "Once I learned their expectations and I started living up to their expectations every day I could share that. We feel Evan can be that guy.
"I always expect him to be better," continued Ellenwood. "I constantly remind him about what his goals are. I'll nag at him and what he's told me what he wants to accomplish as a player. We're not settling for what he's already accomplished. He needs to demand more of himself every single day. I want him to be concerned about not losing. For us to be successful, Evan Yates needs to be very upset if we lose. He has to demand more from his teammates and himself."
Not every player can carry that burden. Ellenwood admits that Yates wasn't ready for that his first two years. Now he is.
"I love the challenge," said Yates. "I feel like the pressure's on me to take the pressure off the other guys. That's what being a leader is about. It's all on my shoulders now."
Yates isn't the only one with broad shoulders in his family. His father, Fletcher, played college basketball and is the all-time leading scorer (1,953 points) at Wilmington College. Ellenwood is the everyday instructor for Yates, but the elder Fletcher has been his sounding board since the moment he first picked up a basketball.
"Just go out there and play hard, that's what my dad always said," said Yates. "I go out and play hard. The game is easier when you let it come to you."
"You can tell that he makes his dad proud," said Ellenwood. "From the day he accepted his scholarship, his dad, you would see the pride in his eyes. We were the only school to offer him a scholarship."
That would appear to be a mistake on the part of a number of schools. The AU coaches believe that this is the year Yates will come into his own. He's older, in better shape and has a better supporting cast than he did the last two seasons.
"I had a referee at one of our scrimmages tell me that Evan reminds him of Justin Keenan (Ferris State forward and two-time GLIAC player of the year)," reported Ellenwood. "I look at that and say, 'You can be more dominating. If he can be that kind of player where he says, 'I have to put up monster numbers,' everyone will benefit. In the past we were sketchy shooting the ball. We had two guys inside but we didn't shoot the ball well from outside. This year, we're shooting the ball better from outside."
That could mean that unlike last year, when the Eagles were on the outside looking in when the GLIAC postseason took place, this year the season could extend into the middle of March. That is what Yates has in mind.
"I'm really trying not to worry about the numbers, I just want to win," said Yates. "I just think for ourselves, the way we view ourselves, everybody needs to see themselves playing a role. They contribute. Hopefully, it will come together and we can be successful on the court."