The Valparaiso University men’s basketball team has announced the addition of three incoming student-athletes for the 2020-21 academic and athletic year.
Connor Barrett (Chicago, Ill. / Loyola Academy), Jacob Ognacevic (Sheboygan, Wis. / Sheboygan Area Lutheran) and Sheldon Edwards (Port Saint Lucie, Fla. / Palm Beach Lakes High School) have all signed National Letters of Intent to join head coach Matt Lottich’s program.
A 6-foot-5 wing, Barrett is spending a postgraduate year at Brewster Academy in New Hampshire after graduating from Loyola Academy in Wilmette, Ill. He averaged 11.9 points and 3.7 rebounds per game at Loyola Academy during the 2018-19 season while knocking down 64 3-pointers and shooting at a 37.9 percent clip.
“My decision to come to Valpo was about fit – the school, the academics, the team and the culture,” Barrett said. “It all seemed to fit together, not to mention the location and the proximity to home. I consider signing with Valpo my top athletic achievement. Nothing has been better for me in my basketball career than this – it’s the greatest thing that’s happened.”
With a set of on-court attributes that includes outside shooting skill, playmaking ability and work ethic on the defensive end, Barrett brings a winning background with him to Northwest Indiana. He led his team to back-to-back regional championships and a sectional final appearance. His winning roots go all the way back to his middle schools days, when his team won three straight championships in sixth, seventh and eight grades.
For the second straight season, Barrett garnered all-Catholic Blue honors and was a 3A/4A all-state special mention by the Illinois Basketball Coaches Association as a senior in 2018-19. Barrett’s high school coach was Tom Livatino, who coached Matt Lottich as a football assistant at New Trier High School during the Valpo head coach’s younger years.
“The thing that stands out about Connor is how well he shoots the basketball,” Lottich said. “Shooting ability is something we were looking to continue to add to our team, and Connor fills that need. He has a competitive streak and a winning mentality. Many of his teams have overachieved, and he’s been a big part of that. He’s in a situation where he’s playing with some high-level talent at Brewster and it’s very clear that he belongs on the floor with those players. We like his toughness and his ability. Connor is very happy to join our program, and we think he is a great fit.”
Ognacevic, a 6-foot-8 forward, led Sheboygan Lutheran to a 27-2 record and the state championship in Wisconsin Division 5. He averaged 30.2 points per game, 15.7 rebounds and 1.9 blocks while shooting 69 percent from the field, 32 percent from 3 and 83.5 percent from the free-throw line.
“I really like the coaching staff and how they recruited me,” Ognacevic said. “They were present at a lot of my games during the spring and summer. That meant a lot to me. Being around the guys and seeing how they play was a big factor. I like the size of the school and the faith aspect of attending a Lutheran institution. The opportunity to play in the Missouri Valley Conference against high-caliber teams is also something that stood out.”
Ognacevic’s strengths include shooting, attacking the rim and scoring a variety of ways. He is a strong rebounder who pursues offensive boards and controls the boards on the defensive end. His defense has improved, including his shot-blocking ability.
“Jacob is a player who can go inside or knock down the 3 at a high clip,” Lottich said. “He can post up smaller players. He’s a competitive young man and is used to winning. He won a state championship last year and averaged over 30 points per game. His team is the favorite to win state again this year. He brings a tremendous amount of toughness and a winning mindset. He has a team-first mentality in addition to being very talented. We’re excited about his addition to our program.”
Edwards, a 6-foot-4 guard, averaged 21.2 points and 7.6 rebounds at Palm Beach Lakes High last season. He is spending a postgraduate year at TLAP Sports Academy in Port St. Lucie, Fla.
“Sheldon wasn’t as well known and didn’t play a high level of AAU until later in his career,” Lottich said. “We were out recruiting a different player, and Sheldon had 36 points. We watched him again, and he had 37. He can score at all three levels. He’s athletic, can shoot and has the ability to get by his defender and finish. The way our class was built, it became clear that he was a player who could fill the missing piece. We’re getting a player with a ton of potential and talent, and we’re thrilled to add that to our roster.”
A first-team all-state honoree, Edwards won all-star game MVP honors in the state of Florida last season. He prides himself on scoring and defense.
“My visit to Valpo was perfect; everyone made it seem like home for my family and me,” Edwards said. “After the visit, it wasn’t a hard decision. My family and I knew right away this was the best fit. I know everyone will be bigger, faster and stronger playing at the Division-I college level, but I’m ready. I’m working to continue to improve this season. Next year, we’re going to be a team that plays hard and is fun to watch.”