CARBONDALE — If Anthony D'Avanzo's last game in a Saluki uniform was his 18-point, five-rebound performance against No. 21 Loyola in the Missouri Valley Conference Tournament quarterfinals, it would have been a great memory.
But there will be more memories with the 6-foot-8, 205-pound forward from Harwood Heights. D'Avanzo, who averaged 7.5 points and 3.9 rebounds per game in his first Division I season, plans to return to SIU in 2021-22 and finish his MBA. The Division II transfer from Lewis University will not count against the Salukis' 13 scholarships because of a new rule the NCAA passed in 2020, awarding everyone an additional year of eligibility.
"Next year I'll be coming back, and I expect to improve a lot this offseason," D'Avanzo said Wednesday.
He made a splash in his first game for the Salukis, hitting two free throws with four seconds to play in regulation at Southeast Missouri State to force overtime. SIU won 87-79 on the way to a 7-0 start. D'Avanzo, a unique player who could play down low and shoot 3-pointers (he went 17 of 57 from behind the arc in 26 games, sinking two or more in five different games), was one of two graduate transfers. Guard Jakolby Long, who also could return next season, battled injuries and only played in 14 games.
D'Avanzo led the Salukis with 15 blocks, shot 46.3% from the field and 64.3% at the free-throw line (27 of 42). His scored 10 or more points eight times, and added 10 rebounds to an 11-point effort against Northern Iowa to help SIU earn a two-game split. D'Avanzo scored 16 points in a one-point loss to Valparaiso, and had 16 points in the second game of a two-game series at Loyola.
"I would say it definitely did take some time to gain some confidence at this level," he said. "I think just playing each game, and learning each and every game helped me to do that, and really just showed that I could play at this level, and kept growing my confidence level each game, really."
D'Avanzo started 20 of 26 games and went over the 1,000-point mark for his career this past season. He split some time with 6-9 freshman center Kyler Filewich, but also played with him in the last quarter of the season, when SIU was without forward Marcus Domask. Domask, the 2020 Missouri Valley Conference Newcomer and Freshman of the Year, started the first 10 games but suffered a stress reaction injury in his left foot. He didn't play after the Drake series in early 2021.
Domask, who is still recovering from his injury but is hopeful he'll be ready by next season, was encouraged by Filewich and D'Avanzo's development in their first Division I seasons.
"Kyler became more confident, and the game slowed down more for him. I think he started to understand that he could have the advantage if we got the ball down on the block, and just took his time, took the shots he wanted," Domask said. "And for Ant, coming from the Division II level, it's a different level of play, so he just needed some time to adjust to the speed and athleticism compared to where he was at. He has all the talent, and the height and length in order to succeed. He just needed a little bit of time to develop the confidence that he could play at this level."
SIU has one scholarship open for the 2021-22 season, as freshman guard Eric Butler has put his name in the transfer portal. The Salukis played the 2020-21 season with 12 scholarship players, and two potential starters missed the majority of it, Domask and junior college forward J.D. Muila. Muila, the 24th-best JUCO player in the country, according to jucorecruiting.com, tore his meniscus before the season and is also in the middle of his recovery. With D'Avanzo coming back, SIU could have Muila, D'Avanzo, Filewich, Domask and 6-7 forward Sekou Dembele in the frontcourt. The Salukis are also adding true freshmen Scottie Ebube, a center from Mundelein High School, and 6-7 forward Troy D'Amico from Niles Notre Dame High School.
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