By Kyle LoJacono
The Saint Leo University (SLU) men’s basketball team is still racking up victories following the most successful season in recent memory.
A trio of Lions was named to the National Association of Basketball Coaches (NABC) Honors Court in recognition of their academic success. The three, who all just completed their junior years, are guard Marcus Ruh and forwards Tom Neary and Shaun Adams.
“Marcus, Shaun and Tom exemplify the duality of academics and athletics that we hope to have in our men’s basketball program,” said SLU coach Lance Randle, who is entering his second year with the program. “Obviously they’re very good basketball players, and they are excellent students. They’re very bright young men and very hard working. They’re just the type of guys who are going to be successful in anything they do because of their talent, but more importantly because of their character and determination.”
The trio didn’t have to look far for encouragement to stay on top of their grades, as the three are roommates.
“We joke around that all we did at night was study and talk about what was going on at school with classes,” said Adams, who is majoring in history and secondary education.
All three were starters for the Lions last year, which was their first with the program after transferring from other schools. Both Adams and Neary came from the University of Loyola-Chicago, while Ruh last attended University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire.
Ruh, a business major, led the way academically, achieving a perfect 4.0 grade point average (GPA) for the 2011-12 school year while also earning Saint Leo Male Scholar-Athlete of the Year honors in April. He averaged 13.2 points, 4.8 rebounds and a team-high 2.7 assists last season.
Neary, who also studies business administration, posted 7.7 points, 5.2 rebounds and 1.4 blocks a year ago, while Adams racked up 9.2 points, 1.3 blocks and team-high 5.3 rebounds.
Adams said he had only one B last year, which came in integrated arts during the first semester. He added that the coaches make grades a top priority.
“If you don’t have a 3.0 or better, than you have to go to the study tables and work on your grades,” Adams said. “They’re always keeping track and asking us what we’ve got going on in class. If we need any help, they’re always there for us.”
Randle added, “We expect more than the average Saint Leo student. We want them to sit in the first two rows in class and focus on school, but with those three guys it’s already ingrained in them. They’re from great families and academics means an awful lot. It’s why they’re here; it’s why they came to Saint Leo, to get the most of a great education.”
The entire squad shined in the classroom last year, as the 14 players had a combined GPA of just more than 3.1.
“Getting that team GPA over a 3.1 for the year is excellent,” Randle said. “At any level, to have an entire team over 3.1, that’s not par for the course with big-time basketball. I’m probably as proud of that as much of anything they’ve accomplished this year.”
The national academic honors come on the heels of Lions banner year. SLU made the NCAA Division II tournament for the first time in program history. The squad also reached the Sunshine State Conference tournament finals and picked up its first winning season in 14 years after compiling an 18-12 record.
“It’s easier to play together with smart players,” Adams said. “There isn’t anything that’s too hard to understand and everyone picks up on how the other team is trying to beat us pretty quickly. Of course you need to have talent, but being smart definitely helps.”
To be eligible for the Honors Court, a player must be academically a junior or senior with a 3.2 GPA or better. Students must also have advanced at least one year at their current school, and be a member of a Division I, II, III or NAIA program.
It is the second straight year the Lions have been represented on the national court following Matt Salay’s selection for the 2010-11 season.
The Lions start individual workouts the first week of September to prepare for the 2012-13 season. Full-team practice starts the second week of October.