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NORMAL - Neil Plank has always taken great pride in his ability to balance basketball and academics.

"We are here to learn first and to be able to balance academics with basketball is really good," said the Illinois State senior, who made the Missouri Valley Conference Scholar-Athlete team for a second straight year.

The senior from Mount Zion was among 12 players named to the first or second teams that were announced by the league office today. Plank, who carries a 3.93 GPA in finance, was joined as a repeat selection on the first-team by Southern Illinois' Jamaal Tatum.

Other first-team members were Wichita State's Paul Miller, Creighton's Anthony Tolliver and Indiana State's Trent Wurtz. Second-team members were Northern Iowa's Erik Crawford, Grant Stout and Brooks McKowen; Indiana State's David Moss and Tyson Schnitker; Drake's Chaun Brooks and Southern Illinois' Matt Shaw.

"It means a lot to me," said Plank. "It's a great honor to be recognized for something that I put a lot of time in and take a lot of pride in. Anytime you put a lot of work into something and you get rewarded for it, it makes you feel good."

Plank added that earning the award two years in a row "makes it even more special."

"My parents have always been supportive of me, but they never pressured me to get good grades," added Plank. "I just felt like if I didn't get good grades I'd be letting myself down."

Do academics come easy for Plank?

"Yes and no," he said. "I do put a lot of time in, study hard for exams and make sure I get my homework done on time. And there's probably a little bit of luck in there because I don't know everything.

"I've always been a good student because I've always felt it was important to get a good education in college. Hopefully, when people see my resume, they will realize I work hard and have the ability to learn new things."

Banged-up Redbirds

Junior Roberto Fortes and sophomore Brandon Holtz did not practice Monday in preparation for Thursday's 8:35 p.m. game against Evansville in the Missouri Valley Conference Tournament in St. Louis because of injuries suffered Saturday at Wichita State.

Fortes, the team's leading scorer in four of the last five games, has a severely sprained left ankle, while Holtz has a deep bruise in his left knee. ISU coach Porter Moser anticipates having both players available Thursday.

Junior Mark Kruse, who sat out Saturday's game at Wichita State because of a sprained ankle, returned to practice Monday.

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