With the regular season fast approaching, fans will have an opportunity to catch their first glimpse of the 2022-2023 Valparaiso University men’s basketball program on Saturday afternoon.
The Beacons will take the court for a noon tip against Cedarville, an exhibition game that is open to the public with single-game tickets available starting on Friday on valpoathletics.com/tickets. There will be no video broadcast of the exhibition, but there will be an online-only audio feed, live stats and in-game Twitter updates from @ValpoBasketball.
The exhibition will serve as a tune-up for the regular season opener on Monday, Nov. 7 at Toledo, a team that went 26-8 overall and 17-3 in the Mid-American Conference last season en route to a National Invitation Tournament appearance.
Top Two Scorers Back
There’s no secret, for Valpo basketball in 2022-2023, it all starts with Ben Krikke (Edmonton, Alberta, Canada / Jasper Place) and Kobe King (La Crosse, Wis. / La Crosse). Krikke earned Preseason All-Missouri Valley Conference First Team honors, while King was tabbed to the third team.
“Anytime you can keep some continuity and keep guys who have had success in your program, on your team and in your league, you have a head start,” Valpo head coach Matt Lottich said. “That’s been awesome. I’m glad they did get some preseason recognition, because I thought they deserved it. Both of them have done a great job improving. One significant improvement has been their bodies and their conditioning.”
Krikke (14.2 ppg) and King (14.0 ppg) were the team’s top two scorers last season. The last time Valpo had its top two scorers back from the previous season was 2015-16, when then the Brown & Gold put together a historic run to the NIT championship game. Only four of the 12 MVC teams have their top two scorers back from a year ago.
“When Kobe came here, he was 215-218 pounds,” Lottich said. “Right now, he’s weighing in at about 198. He’s lighter, his first step is better and he’s still very strong. We’re expecting a good year from him. I think it’ll be a better year than last year. Ben has been great. His conditioning and health have improved. He looks quicker. People forget that he sprained his ankle in our first exhibition game last year, and he was playing catchup for a large part of the year. We’re going to lean a lot on those two guys. Their leadership has been great and their production has been great.”
It starts with King and Krikke, but the Beacons also have numerous members of their supporting cast back. That includes redshirt freshman Cam Palesse (Waukesha, Wis. / Waukesha West), former walk-on and now scholarship sophomore Preston Ruedinger (Oshkosh, Wis. / Lourdes Academy), junior Connor Barrett (Chicago, Ill. / Loyola Academy), sophomore Darius DeAveiro (Kanata, Ottawa, Canada / Orangeville Prep), senior Emil Freese-Vilien (Copenhagen, Denmark / Falkonergardens Gymnasium) and redshirt senior Joe Hedstrom (Hopkins, Minn. / Hopkins [Wisconsin]) as well as walk-on Luke Morrill (Lombard, Ill. / Montini Catholic).
“Any time you have guys back, there’s going to be improvement,” Lottich said. “Collectively as a whole, our strength & conditioning has really improved. We tried to address that this offseason. The guys have done a great job, and we added coach Vijay Blackmon, who has been great for us. There’s been an overall consensus that we have to be able to complement Ben and Kobe well, and we’re excited about the group around them.”
Ruedinger finished last season with 32 assists against just eight turnovers. He was the only player in the nation with 30 or more assists and fewer than 10 turnovers, becoming the first Valpo player to finish a season with 30 or more assists and fewer than 10 turnovers in the last 15 years. At season’s end, Ruedinger was named to the MVC All-Freshman Team, the fourth straight season Valpo has had a rookie earn that distinction.
DeAveiro finished his freshman season as one of two rookies nationally (joining Youngstown State’s Luke Chicone) with 50 or more assists and fewer than 25 turnovers. He was the only player in the MVC to achieve that feat.
Nick Edwards (Atlanta, Ga. / Grayson [Glenville State]) had a triple-double while playing at Glenville last season, one of eight Division-II players in the nation to do so.
“Overall, our athleticism has improved,” Lottich said. “Nick Edwards is very athletic, very twitchy and can score when needed, but he is a true point guard. He was plagued by breaking his foot and missing a bunch of the season last year, but at the time of the injury, he was leading Division-II in assists. He is a very quick, can-score point guard. He’s going to be someone we’re going to have in the lineup a lot.”
Quinton Green (Columbus, Ohio / Homeschool [Cedarville]) earned All-Great Midwest Athletic Conference (G-MAC) honors for three straight seasons. He finished with 1,288 points over four seasons at Cedarville and knocked down a team-high 59 3-point field goals last year.
“I remember when we played Cedarville a few years ago, and Coach (Pat) Estepp is a good friend of mine,” Lottich said. “After the game, I’m like, ‘Pat, that guy is really good.’ And it was Quinton, who was coming off his redshirt freshman year. Now he’s with us. He’s been shooting the ball great and has good athleticism. I think he’ll add some valuable perimeter play for us.”
Ibra Bayu (Flevoland, The Netherlands]) spent three years in the United States playing high school basketball before arriving at Valpo. He dealt with a serious medical issue during his junior season before being sidelined by two separate fractured ankles as a senior.
Jerome Palm (Almere, The Netherlands / Echnaton [Hillsbourgh CC]) comes to Valpo after two junior college seasons at Hillsborough CC and Daytona State. He competed for the championship-winning Netherlands national team in the 2021 3x3 national tournament.
Maximus Nelson (Appleton, Wis. / Appleton North) was a unanimous first team all-conference and first-team all-state selection after his senior season at Appleton North High School in Appleton, Wis.
Freshman Joe Vick (Kouts, Ind. / Kouts) has also joined the roster as a walk-on.
Valpo and Cedarville previously met in exhibition action on Oct. 19, 2019, when the current Valpo player Quinton Green was in a Cedarville uniform and scored 23 points to go along with seven rebounds.
The Yellow Jackets went 19-13 and 12-8 in the G-MAC last season. They qualified for the NCAA Division II Midwest Regional.
“At this time of the year, you go from four hours of basketball per week to 20,” Lottich said. “We’ve had nothing majorly serious, but we’ve had a lot of guys out. I’m not sure that we’ll be fully healthy for Cedarville, but we should probably be fully healthy for Toledo. Practices for the last week have been challenging as we’ve had eight scholarship players who have been healthy, but guys are starting to come back. We should be able to compete and learn a lot about our team. We’ll see our guys in a live competition setting against someone else and really start our prep work for a good Toledo team.”