Two more familiar faces will be joining Tod Kowalczyk in Toledo.
The University of Toledo men's basketball coach announced the transfers of Wisconsin-Green Bay freshmen Rian Pearson and Matt Smith to the Rockets' program yesterday.
Kowalczyk and two of his assistants, Angres Thorpe and Jason Kalsow, recruited and worked with both players last season while they were coaching the Phoenix.
"The most important thing is I know exactly what we're getting with Rian Pearson and Matt Smith, and equally important, they know what they're getting with me and our coaching staff," Kowalczyk said. "We're familiar with both guys, their situation, their potential, their families, and everything else. I'm just very delighted, proud, and honored that they have chosen to follow us and become Rockets."
Pearson (6-foot-3, 190 pounds) sat out the Phoenix's first three games last season as he recovered from a knee injury and averaged 6.4 points and 2.7 rebounds per game in 32 contests.
He really caught stride at the tail end of the season, averaging 11.3 points and 4.9 rebounds per game in his team's final seven contests.
Against Indiana State on Feb. 20, Pearson dropped in a career-high 17 points. Then in the last game of the season against Saint Louis in the second round of the College
Basketball Invitational, he had 14 points and six rebounds.
"That's when my knee finally started feeling better," Pearson said. "I didn't have to worry about warming it up. I could just go out there and play my game."
Smith (6-foot-7, 200 pounds) started 34 of 35 games for UW-Green Bay last season, averaging 3.2 points and 2.1 rebounds per contest.
His career-best game came against UW-Milwaukee on Feb. 6, when he scored 13 points in 16 minutes on the floor.
"I loved playing for Coach K," Smith said. "When they left, I decided then that I wanted to keep on going with them because I felt like they'd bring the best out of me. Then when I came on my visit [last weekend], I fell in love with the place."
Per NCAA rules, both players will sit out the upcoming 2010-11 season and have three years of eligibility remaining.
Kowalczyk believes a year away from game action could prove beneficial for the pair.
"Matt needs to get bigger and stronger," Kowalczyk said. "He's 6-7 but has a 7-2 wingspan. He's extremely long and very, very athletic, but he needs to get stronger and play with higher energy. He's somebody, I think, that has an unbelievable amount of potential.
"Rian is an energizer. He's extremely aggressive and very strong and explosive athletically. He can score around the basket, but he needs to become a better perimeter shooter and ball-handler."
Kowalczyk now has nine scholarship players signed for next season - five holdovers and four of his recruits.
"Having [Pearson and Smith] in the locker room, guys that have been through the ups and downs with this coaching staff, I think that's something that will help our program and get this rebuilding process done quicker," Kowalczyk said. "We have two guys now in the locker room that have played for me and know what I'm going to expect, and they can relay that stuff to our current players."
Both players have great expectations for the careers at UT and are eager to help bring the Rockets' program back to respectability.
"I want to win our league and go to the NCAA tournament, of course," Pearson said. "I want to see us get 20-plus wins and make a name for myself in Toledo."
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