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(Information in this team report is as of October 1.)
COACH AND PROGRAM
If you want to get out of the doldrums, just find yourself a superstar. At the mid-major level, that's not very easy, but it just takes one to lift your team up. Eastern Washington found that out last season.
His name is Rodney Stuckey, and he's not much of an unknown anymore, even while playing at fairly remote Eastern Washington. Stuckey is one of those once-in-a-lifetime players, not only at Eastern Washington but the entire Big Sky. He's the league's best player since Weber State's Harold "The Show" Arceneaux was ripping it up in the late '90s and taking Weber to the second round of the NCAA Tournament.
Stuckey (24.5 ppg, 4.8 rpg, 4.1 apg, 2.2 apg) might be better than Arceneaux -- yes, he's that good. The Big Sky MVP last year, Stuckey led the conference in scoring, was third in assists and second in steals (2.20). He even put up solid rebounding stats, good enough for 14th in the conference.
A first-team all-state player out of Kentwood High School in the Puget Sound area, Stuckey led his prep team to the 4A state title in 2004. Lots of schools wanted him, but he didn't have qualifying grades and test scores to get in. Eastern Washington signed him as a partial qualifier and right out of the gate Stuckey was an outstanding college student, posting high grade-point averages.
When he became eligible last year, he was dynamic. He was EWU's leading scorer in its final 27 games, including a 38-point outburst against Portland State in the first round of the Big Sky playoffs, an 81-75 EWU victory. He also had a 36-point game against Montana, a 34-point game at Boise State; and a 45-point explosion in a loss at Northern Arizona. Stuckey has more than lived up to his advance billing.
Stuckey helped lead EWU to a 15-15 record and a 9-5 showing that was good for third in conference play. While not scintillating, it was a much better performance than the 2004-05 season when the Eagles finished 8-20. Stuckey was the difference maker, and the national media took notice. Stuckey was voted national freshman of the year by Collegeinsider.com.
"The accolades speak for themselves," said coach Mike Burns. "To have a player from the Big Sky Conference recognized by a major media outlet as the national freshman of the year speaks volumes about the impact he made, not only regionally but nationally. He is very deserving of any and all accolades he receives, and I think that sheds light on where our program is heading."
It appears the Eagles are heading in the right direction. After a disastrous first season as a head coach, Burns righted the ship last season. And now with Stuckey and three other starters returning, the Eagles should make a run at the conference championship.