The year is 2014. FGCU has proven to be the thorn in the side of Mercer (fellow ASUN member) in recent years. For the past two seasons, the Eagles have knocked the Bears out of the ASUN tournament and denied them a trip to the dance. FGCU is one season removed from making history in said “dance”. The teams are set to square off in the ASUN championship game for the right to represent the conference in the NCAA tournament.
The Eagles would go on to lose that game by a score of 68-60, solidifying a fierce rivalry and leaving fans of both teams wanting more. Unfortunately this was the last time these two former foes met. Mercer would leave the ASUN for the Southern Conference just months later. Now, 6 years removed, these two teams are set to do battle again. Over the summer it was announced that the schools will be facing off for the next four years in an agreement that will bring the Bears back to the nest in 2020 and 2022.
Since joining the Southern Conference, Mercer’s record has been up and down (mostly up). Last season’s record of 11-20 (6-12 in conference) was their worst in over 10 years and enough to prompt the university to fire long-time coach, Bob Hoffman. Mercer replaced Hoffman with experienced Purdue assistant, Greg Gary.
The rivalry is old yet still fresh in the minds of some fans. But some rekindling may be needed. 6 years later, these teams have each seen their share of change. Both are sorting through somewhat recent coaching switches and subsequent philosophical shifts. Here is a look at what these 2019-2020 Mercer Bears bring to the table.
Ross Cummings has only played in 1 of 3 games this year for the Bears. Last season, as a junior, he started for the team and led them with 17 points per game. Coming off the bench in their most recent game against Kennesaw State (fellow ASUN member), Cummings scored 14 points and added 3 rebounds. He is a 6’3″, senior guard and shoots at a 40+ percentage from the floor as well as from 3. Cummings seems to be in good health and should be someone for the Eagles to pay close attention to.
Ethan Stair is a 6’4″ guard, currently leading the team with 20 points and 10 rebounds per game. As a junior, he averaged 12 points and 5 rebounds. It is clear that Stair has improved in both areas early this season. Last year, he shot 42% from 3 and doesn’t appear to be slowing down. While known for offense and rebounding, Stair also has a penchant for racking up steals on the defensive end.
Djordje Dimitrijevic is yet another senior guard for this Mercer squad. He is currently second on the Bears with 17 points per game. He is also averaging 6 rebounds. Dimitrijevic is a 6’2″ and shoots at a very high percentage (43%).
Maciej Bender (no relation to Dragan Bender of the NBA) is a 6’11” / 255 lb transfer from West Virginia. At WVU, he never found much production but is a candidate to lead the Mercer bigs as this season progresses. Through the first 3 games, he is averaging only 15 minutes, 4 points, and 4 rebounds, but these numbers should grow.
Luke Hamilton is a 6’8″ / 200 lb sophomore. He impressed as a freshman, averaging 9 points per game. So far this season he has played in 2 games and is averaging 7 points and 4 rebounds. Hamilton is a tall, athletic big with fair shooting ability.
James Glisson III
James Glisson III is a freshman forward that has been turning heads early in the season. He is averaging 6 points and 7 rebounds (3 offensive) in 22 minutes of action. Glisson is 6’6″ / 210 lbs and is already someone to account for. He is taking advantage of his early-season opportunities and should only get better.
Strength vs Strength
The common theme so far this year is seniority and shooting ability among the opposing guards versus the young talent of the Eagles’ guards. Mercer has 3 such guards with loads of experience and an advanced ability to shoot the ball. FGCU, on the other hand, has less experience but runs away in the talent department. The Eagles have shooters and scorers of their own but have struggled to put together two quality halves. The tandem of Scott and Catto have carried the team so far this year. They, along with Jalen Warren, will need to at least neutralize the impact of Cummings, Stair, and Dimitrijevic. If those 3 Bears can be held in check or matched in production, FGCU could rely on a specialist like Sam Gagliardi to put them over the top.
Size vs Speed
Mercer presents the biggest challenge, in terms of size, so far this season. Bender is a massive human being. Frankly, the Eagles don’t have anyone to properly match up with him. What FGCU does have, is tremendous athleticism and length at the forward spot, which can be an advantage on its own. To this point in the season, this position group has not been able to make much of an impact. Steady improvement has been seen out of Justus Rainwater, Dakota Rivers, and Qwanzi Samuels. If there was ever a game for one of these individuals to break out or take that next step, it’s this one. Mercer is somewhat thin at forward though and, like FGCU, relies on guard-play for scoring. Because of this, whichever team ends up winning the battle down low could end up the victor.
The New Guys
On Wednesday, 11/13/19, Coach Michael Fly added 3 new Eagles to the squad in Victor Rosa, Luis Rolon. and Zachary Anderson. Rosa and Rolon are current seniors and teammates for Central Pointe Christian Academy. Anderson’s commitment was made official later that day. On Thursday, 11/14/19, it was also made official that a previous commit, Dom London (who we wrote about in our season preview), will also be joining the Eagles for the 2020-2019 season.
Victor Rosa is an impressive get for Coach Fly. He is 6’6″ / 190 lbs and can play as a true guard or wing. His frame suggests that he could put on even more height and add bulk as well. He has been listed as a 4 star recruit on some sites but is generally ranked as a 3. Per 247 Sports, he has been given a .89 overall rating (second in FGCU history, only to Rayjon Tucker, per their metric) and is ranked as the 15th best prospect in FL for his class. Rosa has tremendous length for a player at his position as well as a quick and reliable shot. He also has good ball-handling and passing skills to go along with great defensive potential. Rosa will be a welcome addition to FGCU.
Luis Rolon will be joining his high school teammate down in Fort Myers as they are now both committed to begin their collegiate careers at FGCU starting in the 2020-2021 school year. Rolon is another true point guard for the Eagles. He possesses impressive court vision, awareness, and passing skills. In the past, the Eagles have been without a true point guard at times and have suffered for it. There seems to be an emphasis in their recruiting on making sure there is always a player waiting in the wings to take the point when called upon. Rolon will be given time to learn from upperclassmen when he arrives but is also sure to see the court early as Coach Fly is not shy about playing freshman.
Zachary Anderson joins the Eagles next season after he finishes up his senior year at Apopka High Scool. He is a 6’7″ / 190 lb wing/forward that can shoot and handle the ball well for his size. FGCU will be losing Tracy Hector Jr to graduation after this year, making space for a player like Anderson. He is the 3rd freshman joining the Eagles next season and will fit in nicely as a 3/4 behind players like Caleb Catto and/or Qwanzi Samuels.
We briefly spoke about Dom London back in October when we previewed the season. But we found out on 11/14/19 that his commitment is now official. He is a sophomore guard, currently at Harcum College (JUCO), who will join FGCU next year with 2 years of eligibility. London stands at only 6’0″ but is a fantastic shooter and has impressed so far this season for Harcum. In their first home game, he scored 24 points and tallied 7 assists. He followed that performance up by hitting the game winning shot in OT in their next game. We will continue to follow his season and keep you up to date on the recruiting trail.
Elliott Kresse (2-1)
79-70 – Mercer
Russell Kelly (0-3)
74-68 – Mercer
Dawson Jordan (1-2)
69-66 – FGCU
Bryan Genter (1-2)
68-67 – FGCU