HOT SPRINGS, Ark. — Two Western Kentucky University men’s basketball players have been named preseason Sun Belt All-Conference while the Hilltoppers were tabbed third in the East Division, the Sun Belt office released Monday afternoon from Hot Springs, Ark., site of the 2009 SBC Basketball Media Days.
Jeremy Evans was named to the SBC Second-Team while A.J. Slaughter was a Third-Team honoree.
Middle Tennessee’s Desmond Yates was selected as the league’s preseason Player of the Year. The predicted order of finish as well as the three preseason All-Conference teams were chosen by a vote of the conference’s 13 coaches.
"I think it’s an honor to be a part of any all-conference team and it just speaks to how hard Jeremy and AJ have worked," said WKU head coach Ken McDonald. "Now it’s time to go forward and increase their roles on a new team. We have a lot of new faces and it will be an exciting time for both Jeremy and AJ as well as for our program."
Evans earned Sun Belt Conference Tournament Most Valuable Player honors last year after averaging 13.0 ppg and 7.3 rpg in leading the Hilltoppers to their seventh SBC Tournament title in 16 years. The 6-9 junior forward from Crossett, Ark. shot 78.9 percent (15-of-19) from the floor during the tournament capped off by a 20-point, 14-rebound performance in the championship win over rival Middle Tennessee.
On the season, Evans led the team in rebounding (5.2 rpg) and blocked shots (51), finishing 15th and third respectively in the SBC in those categories. Evans started 33 of 34 games in 2007-08 for WKU, averaging 5.9 ppg and shooting 62.5 percent from the field.
Slaughter is the Hilltoppers’ leading returning scorer at 7.6 ppg. The 6-3 junior guard from Shelbyville, Ky. started seven of 36 games last season, ranking third on the team with 12 double-digit scoring performances. WKU’s most accurate three-point weapon, Slaughter hit from long range at a 43.6 percent clip. He was also second on the squad in steals (40).
Stepping up his production in Sun Belt play, Slaughter contributed 8.1 ppg and connected on 45.5 percent of his three-point attempts. In the NCAA Tournament first round win over #14 Drake, Slaughter had 10 points, four rebounds, and four assists in 18 minutes. He added seven points, three assists, no turnovers, and two steals in the "Sweet 16" match-up with #2 UCLA.
In addition to Yates, Russell Hicks (Florida International), Carlos Monroe (Florida Atlantic), Josh White (North Texas), and Brandon Davis (South Alabama) make up the five-member First-Team.
Tony Hooper (ULM), Kevin Kanaskie (Middle Tennessee), Collin Dennis (North Texas), and Domonic Tilford (South Alabama) joined Evans on the Second-Team.
The Third-Team included Steven Moore (UALR), Paul Graham III (Florida Atlantic), Chris Gradnigo (Louisiana-Lafayette), Kyndall Dykes (New Orleans), and Slaughter.
WKU, Middle Tennessee, Florida Atlantic, North Texas, and South Alabama each had two members named to the SBC All-Conference teams, the most by any one school.
In the preseason coaches’ poll, Middle Tennessee was chosen as the team to beat in the East Division with 76 points including 11 of 13 first-place tallies. South Alabama was second with 60 points and two first-place votes, just ahead of WKU with 52 points. Florida Atlantic (38), Florida International (33), and Troy (14) round out the poll.
On the West Division side of the ledger, UALR and North Texas tied as the preseason favorites, each garnering 76 points, but with UALR edging the Mean Green in first-place votes six to four. Louisiana-Lafayette (75) was just one-point back in third, picked as the favorite on three coaches’ ballots. Arkansas State (43) was a distant fourth followed by ULM (39), Denver (35), and New Orleans (20).
The defending Sun Belt East Division co-champions and NCAA "Sweet 16" participants from 2008 will kick off their exhibition schedule on Friday, October 31 when the Toppers host LCC International University at E.A. Diddle Arena.