CARBONDALE — The SIU men's basketball team officially added guard Eric McGill and 6-foot-10 center Kavion Pippen for the 2017-18 season on Wednesday, after both signed national letters of intent on the first day of the regular signing period.
McGill, a 6-foot-3, 185-pound sophomore guard at Panola (Texas) College, averaged 11.6 points, 3.4 rebounds and 5.6 assists per game for a 26-9 Ponies squad that reached the NJCAA national tournament. The Memphis native shot 43.4 percent from the field and 39.5 percent from the 3-point line (64 of 162) in 32 games, 27 of them starts. McGill played particularly strong down the stretch this past season, sinking 6 of 8 from the field (including 4 of 4 from the 3-point line) in Panola's win over Shelton State at the NJCAA tournament.
He scored 20 points or more in three of his final five games, sinking 14 of 25 from behind the arc during that stretch. Saluki coach Barry Hinson said McGill gave the team an older guard that can break down defenses.
"This is a young man who has played Division I basketball and who scored 20 points in a game against Murray State as a freshman," Hinson said in a statement. "We felt like we needed to add an athletic guard who can not only pass, dribble and shoot, but who can get to the rim. We wanted a guard who realized the importance of being unselfish and distributing the basketball."
McGill played his freshman season at Southeast Missouri State in 2015-16, when he appeared in 27 games. He averaged seven points, 2.4 rebounds and 1.8 assists per game, and shot 32 percent from the 3. McGill joined another Panola alum, senior guard/forward Jonathan Wiley, on the squad.
Both were recruited primarily by assistant coach Brad Autry.
Hinson said McGill also gives SIU another option at point guard, where Saint Louis transfer Marcus Bartley and sophomore Aaron Cook are expected to battle for minutes.
"I've always said, if we could ever get to a point in a basketball game where we play three point guards at one time, and you can find these guys with any size and length, that's what your ideal basketball team would look like," Hinson said. "My thought process is we don't put numbers on our kids. We don't want to put limitations on them."
Pippen, a sophomore forward at Three Rivers (Missouri) Community College, started 17 of 27 games for the Raiders last season. He alternated starts with Houston signee Gabe Grant, according to Raiders coach Gene Bess, and has a high upside for the Salukis. The 220-pound pivot averaged 10.5 points, 7.3 rebounds and 1.9 blocks per game, and filled SIU's biggest need.
"I go to church on Sunday and I've got everybody asking me if we've got a big man yet," Hinson joked. "We had a specific need on the interior. We feel like this young man can come in and contribute immediately and make an impact on our program."
Pippen, the nephew of NBA great Scottie Pippen and cousin of former Saluki volleyball player Taylor Pippen, could give SIU another athletic shot-blocker to go with senior Thik Bol. Bol rejected 76 shots in 33 games, the third-most for a single season in Saluki history, and was the Salukis' fourth-leading scorer at 9.1 points per game. Pippen blocked 53 shots last season, shot 54.9 percent from the field, and gives SIU much-needed size down low.
"In all honesty, that's the thing that we're really excited about, is that it gives us options," Hinson said. "We can play two different ways. When Thik was out of the game, we played small. We have the option now that we can play small and big. I think that's when you get Thik and Kavion, who can play together, and you add Rudy (Stradnieks) in the mix, and Austin (Weiher) and Jonathan. I've always said you gotta have five bigs. We really have three bigs and two hybrids, but that's gonna be good for us."
McGill and Pippen join incoming freshman guard Jeremy Roscoe in the Salukis' 2017 class. Roscoe, a 6-2, 193-pound freshman, didn't academically qualify for a scholarship this season and paid his own way. He is expected to have four years of eligibility beginning this winter.