CARBONDALE — Deion Lavender, who played his freshman season at SIU in 2014-15, is coming back to the Missouri Valley Conference for his final year.
Lavender will play as a fifth-year graduate transfer at Valparaiso after three years at UAB, according to the Northwest Indiana Times and the Post-Tribune of Northwest Indiana.
Two league sources confirmed Lavender will be the Crusaders' only senior in 2018-19, and take on the team that recruited the 6-foot-4, 195-pound guard out of Alton Marquette High School at least twice.
Valparaiso is expected to formally announce Lavender in the next few days.
“It’s a winning program, they’ve won a lot of games, been to a lot of postseason tournaments," Lavender told the Post-Tribune. "It’s my fifth year and I was looking to go somewhere I could have an immediate impact and still look to win a championship.”
The Crusaders finished last in the conference in their first year in the Valley at 6-12. Valparaiso (15-17) missed the postseason for the first time in seven years, but return three starters and will have six new players. Junior guard/forward Ryan Fazekas, a 6-8, 215-pound transfer from Providence that sat out last season, will be eligible this winter. Coach Matt Lottich recruited four freshmen, including one of the top guards in the state in Javon Freeman-Liberty from state champion Whitney Young, and two players that will have to sit out per NCAA rules.
Guard Eron Gordon, the younger brother of Houston Rockets guard Eric Gordon, came from Seton Hall. Valparaiso recently added guard Nick Robinson from Saint Joseph's, who will also have to sit out in 2018-19. Sophomore guard Bakari Evelyn (12.6 points per game last season), junior center Derrik Smits (7.5 ppg., 3.6 rebounds per game) and junior forward Mileek McMillan are Valparaiso's returning starters.
Lavender played in 19 games last season for the Blazers, all off the bench, for a 20-13 squad. He averaged 11.2 minutes a game, shot 55 percent from the field (22 of 40) and made 10 of 18 at the free-throw line. The fourth-year junior, who redshirted in 2015-16, had 27 assists, 14 turnovers and five steals in a diminished role from the previous year. Lavender didn't play in the Blazers' final eight games of the season.
Lavender started 14 games in 2016-17, averaging 6.2 points and 2.8 rebounds a game. He led the team in assists at 3.4 per game and was second with 25 steals.
Lavender averaged 6.6 points and 2.5 rebounds in his only season at SIU, scoring 10 points or more in seven of the last 10 games of the year. He left as part of a mass exodus in 2015. Forward Jordan Caroline, Lavender and guards K.C. Goodwin, Jalen Pendleton and Charles "Chaz" Glotta all left the Salukis after their 12-21 campaign.
Valparaiso will be Lavender's fourth college team in five years. After playing one year at SIU and three at UAB (two on the court after the redshirt year), Lavender and Glotta signed with Division II Maryville (Missouri) University in St. Louis earlier this year.