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Anyijong looks like rough gem for University of Toledo


Justin Anyijong looks to pass against Dayton on Friday. He finished that game with 16 points and 12 rebounds.

The Blade/Andy Morrison
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University of Toledo sophomore Justin Anyijong lit up Savage Arena last weekend with his 3-point shooting, perhaps in part because no one expected it from the Rockets' 6-foot-9 forward.

Not too long ago even Anyijong wouldn't have guessed he could make four

3-pointers against Dayton.

Perimeter shooting has been an addition to his game since coming to Toledo.

"I didn't need to shoot the 3 in high school," Anyijong said. "But coach told me, you have soft hands, a good shooter's touch and good rotation. He said step out, step out, shoot it behind the arc."

Coach Gene Cross and the Rockets hope Anyijong has his shot working again tonight when they host Rhode Island at 7 p.m. It's UT's final nonconference game until Mid-American Conference play begins Saturday.

After barely getting off the bench last year, this season Anyijong is third on the team with 8.1 points per game and leads the squad with 5.9 rebounds. Cross didn't know much about Anyijong when he first took the job last spring, but the more he learns the more he likes.

"All it is for Justin is a level of confidence that someone has to have in him," Cross said. "He's a smart kid, so he understands where he has to be on the floor to get his shots. I'm impressed with his rebounding and how much better he's getting with it.

"I want him to screen better, cut better, but he is so much better than he was when I got here. He's really just scratching the surface with how good he can be."

His improvement began over the summer when Anyijong chose to remain in Toledo and work out rather than spend time at home in Grand Rapids, Mich. He found a willing workout partner in Toledo native Zach Hillesland, a senior at Notre Dame who Cross formerly coached.

"He was like a big brother to me during the summer, he took care of me," Anyijong said.

For six weeks, Anyijong and Hillesland lifted in the morning, shot around in the afternoon, and relaxed in the evening. Cross had Hillesland do a little spy work too.

"I had Zach assess him for me because I had very little time to work on him in the spring when I first got here," Cross said. "He came back and said, 'he can be really good.'•"

Anyijong was the hero against Massachusetts when he tipped in the game-winner in UT's home opener last month. His best game yet was last Friday when he put up 16 points and grabbed 12 rebounds in the loss to the Flyers. For his first couple 3's he set up in the corner, but as the night went on, he came off screens to get his looks.

"We wanted him to have a scorer's mentality," senior Jonathan Amos said. "He came out and hit some big shots for us, and that's what we need him to do."

AMOS HONORED: Amos won the Mid-American Conference West division player of the week award, the conference announced yesterday. In two games last week, Amos averaged 23.5 points, six rebounds, four assists, and 3.5 steals. It's the second straight week a UT player won the award. Anyijong was honored last week.

ROSTER NOTES: The team announced freshman Emeka Okafor, Jr., has been released from his scholarship and will transfer to another school. Okafor played in six games and averaged 11 minutes.

"We appreciate Emeka's contributions to our program, and we wish him all the best in his future endeavors," Cross said.

Cross also gave updates on UT's injuries. Senior Ridley Johnson probably won't be back from a broken foot for another week or so. Freshman Zac Taylor has started working out again after knee problems. Freshman Stephen Albrecht, who had offseason back surgery, will redshirt this season.

Contact Maureen Fulton at:

or 419-724-6160.

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