NORMAL — Immediate scoring and rebounding help is needed next season for Illinois State’s basketball team.
Coach Dan Muller believes the Redbirds took an important step in beefing up both areas Wednesday with the addition of two junior college players as the spring signing period began.
Bobby Hunter, a 5-foot-10 guard from Santa Fe College in Gainesville, Fla., and Michael Middlebrooks, a 6-9 power forward from North Idaho College, signed national letters of intent to play for ISU. Both will have two years of eligibility with the Redbirds starting in the fall.
Hunter was the nation’s second-leading scorer among Division I junior college players with a 25.2 average and became Santa Fe’s first-ever first-team JUCO All-American. He set a Florida junior college record for most free throws made (275) and attempted (354) during a season.
Middlebrooks averaged 8.9 points and 7.2 rebounds for North Idaho. He shot 63.6 percent from the field, 60.3 percent at the free throw line and was a second-team all-Region 18 selection.
“Anytime you recruit a junior college kid, because they have only two years left, they look for what opportunities they have for playing time,” said Muller. “We never promise anything recruiting. We just explain the situation and what we lost and explain the expectations on and off court.
“They’re talented, good kids. We’re certainly excited about them joining the guys we have returning who we are excited about.”
Zach Lofton, a 6-4 guard from San Jacinto (Texas) Community College who averaged 16.4 points, announced earlier this week he plans to sign with the Redbirds. However, ISU did not receive a signed national letter of intent from Lofton on Wednesday, so Muller couldn’t comment about him. Lofton will have three years of eligibility.
The Redbirds graduated their top two scorers and rebounders, Tyler Brown (18.1 points, 4.4 rebounds per game) and Jackie Carmichael (17.4, 9.3). Starting forward John Wilkins also graduated, while frontcourt players Jon Ekey, Jordan Threloff and Zeke Upshaw decided to transfer after an 18-15 season.
That made it imperative for Muller and his staff to find some quick help for the 2013-14 season.
“Bobby is a very physical guard that certainly can score. He was on a team where he had to score,” said Muller. “He can do a lot of other things with his penetration and size. He’s 190 (pounds) and a big, physical kid which gives you an advantage offensively.”
Muller liked that Hunter, who can play either guard spot, was able to make 47.3 percent from the field and 37 percent outside the arc despite being called upon to shoot a lot. Hunter, a native of Reno, Nev., led Oregon Tech to the NAIA Division II national title in 2012 before transferring to Santa Fe.
Middlebrooks, a Seattle native, has only played competitively for four years. Muller said the 210-pound Middlebrooks was on a team with “plenty of big-time players who could score.” Middlebrooks ranked eighth in the nation with 3.0 blocks per game.
“He has a bunch of good basketball days ahead of him,” said Muller. “He has to get stronger and put some weight on, but some of the things he can do you can’t teach. He’s got a motor, moves well, has great length and size and is an extremely quick jumper. He’s just bouncy.
“He has good hands and is good around the rim finishing and blocking shots. We’ll have to develop his offensive game a little bit, but it’s developed a lot over the past couple years already.”
The Redbirds signed three high school players last fall — guards Paris Lee of Proviso East and Tony Wills of Indianapolis, along with 6-10 center Reggie Lynch of Edina, Minn.
ISU figures to use one, and maybe both, of its two remaining scholarships on frontcourt players. The spring signing period ends May 15.