Jugovic named to Preseason All-OVC Team, Golden Eagles picked fifth at OVC Media Day

Jugovic named to Preseason All-OVC Team, Golden Eagles picked fifth at OVC Media Day

By Mike Lehman, TTU Sports Information

EVANSVILLE, Ind. – As the 2017-18 regular season start draws closer at a rapid rate, Tennessee Tech head men's basketball coach Steve Payne represented the Golden Eagles at the Ohio Valley Conference's annual media day Tuesday morning, taking part for the first time in league history in Evansville, Ind.

"It's a great city and the Ford Center is a fantastic venue," Payne explained. "We were fortunate enough to play here about five or six years ago and get a win against a really good Evansville team. I could go on and on about how nice of a facility it is. The community of Evansville possess great knowledge of and passion for basketball, and my hope is they will get behind the OVC Tournament, and all the teams and coaches, and help provide a fantastic atmosphere here in March."

Payne's Golden Eagle squad return an impressive seven of its top eight scorers from a season ago, including senior guard and Preseason All-OVC selection, Aleksa Jugovic. The sharpshooter averaged a team-high 15.2 points per game last season, hitting free throws at a conference-best 90.8 percent clip, a mark that also ranked 10th nationally.

"A.J. is very deserving of this honor," Payne said. "He works extremely hard, he is a very motivated player, he's great to coach and just a pleasure to be around. It is obvious to me that he's one of the top 10 to 12 players in this league. We're just looking for added growth from him, which he showed last year, and I'm proud of who he is as a player, as a teammate and as a person."

With the increase to 18 league games and abolishment of the East and West Divisions, the Golden Eagles will head into the new-look Ohio Valley Conference season selected fifth overall in a vote of the league's head coaches and sports information directors. Belmont claimed the top spot in the poll, with Jacksonville State, Murray State and Eastern Kentucky following, before Tech.

In a vote among the conference's media members, Tech was selected seventh overall, with Belmont again being tabbed as the early favorite in the league.

"I think the teams that competed for the championship the year before should always be picked at the top," Payne explained. "'Belmont, Jacksonville State and Murray State were those teams last year. Each of those teams has a lot back, as do we and as does Eastern Kentucky.

"Last year in the league we were right there and all I can tell you is I believe we will be right there again this year. I believe we'll have a great chance to impact the Ohio Valley Conference race. I feel that talent-wise and player-wise, we are going to be okay and if we keep getting better, we'll be in the mix at the end of the year.

"Staying healthy is always a key for us and sometime you just have to be fortunate in that regard," Payne said. "Last year we struggled to shoot the ball overall. I think some of that was role definition, which we started to figure out more towards the end of the year. This year, we are shooting the ball very well and have some guys who can really score. It will come down to discipline on selecting the shots that are best for our team.

"Rebounding will be the other big key. Last season we were just an okay rebounding team, and that's not what we want to be. We have to rebound the ball – especially on the defensive end – at a high level."

2017-18 Preseason All-OVC Men's Basketball Team
Matthew Butler, UT Martin
Malcolm Drumwright, Jacksonville State
Amanze Egekeze, Belmont
Norbertas Giga, Jacksonville State
Asante Gist, Eastern Kentucky
Aleksa Jugovic, Tennessee Tech
Austin Luke, Belmont
Denzel Mahoney, Southeast Missouri
Nick Mayo, Eastern Kentucky
Terrell Miller, Murray State
Jonathan Stark, Murray State

Preseason Player of the Year: Jonathan Stark, Murray State

2017-18 Preseason OVC Men's Basketball Predicted Order of Finish
Selected by OVC Head Basketball Coaches and Sports Information Directors)
1. Belmont (18 first-place votes) – 235 points
2. Jacksonville State (3) – 213
3. Murray State (3) – 212
4. Eastern Kentucky – 139
5. Tennessee Tech – 137
6. Eastern Illinois – 135
7. Tennessee State – 125
8. UT Martin – 114
9. Morehead State – 89
10. Southeast Missouri – 82
11. Austin Peay – 63
12. SIUE – 40

2017-18 Media OVC Preseason Men's Predicted Order of Finish
1. Belmont (8 first-place votes) - 148 points
2. Murray State (1) - 138
3. Jacksonville State (2) - 132
4. Tennessee State (1) - 95
5. Eastern Kentucky (1) - 91
6. UT Martin - 82
7. Tennessee Tech - 80
8. Eastern Illinois - 79
9. Morehead State - 59
10. Austin Peay - 48
11. Southeast Missouri - 36
12. SIUE - 26

Preseason Player of the Year: Jonathan Stark, Murray State

Photo by Thomas Corhern, TTU Sports Information