CEDAR FALLS — University of Northern Iowa men’s basketball coach Ben Jacobson has put together an experienced 2018 recruiting class.
Jacobson announced the signings Wednesday of junior college transfers Shandon “Biggie” Goldman (Panola College) and Tray Croft (Iowa Central Community College), in addition to Pepperdine freshman transfer Trae Berhow.
The trio will join consensus top-100 national recruit AJ Green of Cedar Falls as additions to a UNI roster that graduated three scholarship players and had sophomore Juwan McCloud and redshirt freshman Tanner Lohaus decide to leave the program.
Wyatt Lohaus and Miles Wentzien will be the lone seniors next season for what will be a younger UNI team. While Berhow will redshirt in 2018-19 per NCAA transfer regulations, Goldman and Croft are a pair of seasoned options capable of enhancing the team’s returning core.
“We found two guys with Biggie and Tray Croft that can come in with some experience and move us forward,” Jacobson said.
Goldman, a 6-foot-9 skilled forward, and Croft, a 6-foot-1 combo guard, are each efficient shooters who made over 40 percent of their attempts from 3-point range last season. Beyond their scoring ability, Jacobson has been impressed with their feel for the game.
“Being around both guys — just getting a sense for how they think about the game — I think of them as guys that are going to move the ball and guys that aren’t going to take bad shots,” Jacobson added. “There’s no question that they can both make shots. They’re going to do that for us because that’s who they are. We were sold because of how they see the game.”
Croft announced his decision to attend UNI prior to signing Wednesday afternoon. The guard from Anniston, Ala., was named a first-team NJCAA Division II All-American on Tuesday following a record-setting career at Iowa Central.
The Tritons’ all-time scoring leader averaged 27.5 points and 3.4 3-pointers per game his sophomore season on 49.5 percent shooting. He added averages of 6.6 rebounds and four assists.
Croft had received offers from a handful of Division I programs, including Arkansas-Little Rock, Omaha and North Dakota. He viewed UNI as the most prominent of the group.
“It was the biggest offer I really had from a DI, and going DI was a dream of mine, so I felt it would be right,” Croft said.
The guard found further comfort during his campus visit two weeks ago.
“What stood out most is the team,” Croft said. “They made it seem like it was home.”
Developing himself into an impact scorer with a strong pull-up jumper to complement his perimeter accuracy, Croft is motivated to press forward.
“It made it seem like whatever I put my mind to, I can accomplish no matter what it is,” Croft said of reaching his DI goal.
While Panther fans will have to wait to see another potential impact guard in Berhow, his infectious personality may pay immediate dividends. UNI’s coach says he’s also equipped to become a great defender and rebounder in addition to a valuable shooter.
“He’s an upbeat, outgoing, high energy guy,” Jacobson said. “I think we’re going to get that at practice. I think we’re going to get that in the locker room. As he goes through our program, he’s going to be a terrific leader for us. He checks a lot of very important boxes.”
Complementing the transfers who signed Wednesday, Jacobson says Green’s stock has continued to rise since signing with UNI last fall. Like so many in Cedar Falls, the UNI coach said he was captivated by Green and his teammates’ recent run to the Class 4A state title.
Beyond the physical development and advanced skill-set acquired through countless hours of work, Jacobson has been impressed with Green’s growth as a leader and communicator. The highly-touted recruit will play at the point guard position, “a lot” with his size and shooting ability making him an option at the shooting guard spot. Croft and junior Spencer Haldeman also project to see reps at both positions.
“He just keeps getting better and pays attention to all the little things that matter,” Jacobson said of Green. “As good of a player as AJ is, he’s going to have some challenges, as well. He’s going to work hard to meet those while he’s adding to what we’re doing.”
Jacobson added that Adam McDermott — a Cedar Rapids native and transfer from North Dakota prior to the 2016-17 season — will go on scholarship this upcoming year. UNI has one scholarship remaining.
“In terms of the recruiting process, this was an important part of it, and being able to put the entire thing together for Adam and his family,” Jacobson said. “He’s really worked, and in particular on getting our team ready, while he’s continued to work to become a better player. This spring we’re seeing him get stronger and gain confidence, and I feel like he’s going to be able to help.”
While three of the four 2018 additions are guards, Jacobson isn’t going to limit his remaining scholarship to a certain position. He likes the trajectory incoming sophomore forward Austin Phyfe is on, along with Goldman’s addition and the continued development of 6-9 forward Luke McDonnell and 7-foot center Justin Dahl, who are each entering their redshirt junior seasons.
“We’ll see what else happens this spring with that scholarship we’ve got left,” Jacobson said. “It doesn’t have to be that (forward) spot. We’re going to see what’s out there.”