Incoming UT recruits show promise

Kowalczyk, Cullop take advantage of early practice time


The three freshmen that form the most hyped basketball recruiting class in many years at the University of Toledo arrived a few minutes late to their first practice.

They were following NCAA orders and being examined for sickle cell. All three tested negative.

The next test for Jonathan Williams, Jordan Lauf, and Zach Garber, a test that involved three-on-three drills and ball screen defense, brought positive results.

“That class is as advanced as any class I’ve been around as far as coming in and knowing how to play and knowing our concepts,” coach Tod Kowalczyk said.

Both Toledo teams, the men and the women, practiced for the first time Monday and will take advantage in the coming weeks of increased court time to break in rosters rife with new talent.

The men, who will practice 10 additional days in advance of an August trip to Greece, will break in seven players eligible for the first time. The women, who are allowed for the first time to conduct summer practices, have five newcomers and a sixth in transfer Brenae Harris, who will sit out 2013-14.

Though the sample was small — only one hour — there was much to like about the men’s rookie triumvirate, which celebrated their one-year anniversary of committing to the Rockets with their first college practice.

Williams, an explosive scoring guard from Southfield, Mich., made one of the finest plays of the day. He burst into the lane, swiveled his shoulders to create separation, and elevated for what appeared to be a field goal attempt. He changed his mind and dished to a teammate for an easy bucket, a sequence that elicited a hardy “Helluva pass!” from his head coach. Lauf, the Napoleon product who developed a reputation for suffocating Northern Lakes League foes, showed that same desire to defend. Lauf (6-foot-5, 190 pounds) also looks advanced physically. Garber, the 6-9 post from Vanlue, rebounded well and scored with either hand.

Not participating at practice were veteran forwards Rian Pearson, who is back home in Kansas City, and Matt Smith and J.D. Weatherspoon, both of whom are nursing minor injuries.

The freshmen, who chose the Rockets within hours of one another over offers from many of the premier mid-major programs in the Midwest, will live together in a dorm room. Playing time on a team expected to contend for the Mid-American Conference title is not assured, but one thing is: Williams, Lauf, and Garber caught the attention of their coach.

“They’re advanced, they’re well coached, and they know how to play,” Kowalczyk said. “That’s a big part of it. I thought they did a great job.”

Women’s coach Tricia Cullop also introduced three freshmen but will wait several more weeks to welcome her two European newcomers. Cullop spent much of the session — which started at 6 a.m. — instructing 6-3 post Sophie Reecher, who could be asked to contribute immediately to offset the loss of four posts who graduated or transferred.

“Sophie is strong, and as she continues to learn our system, she’s going to get a lot of time,” Cullop said.

Cullop also came away impressed with the other freshmen in attendance. Olivia Braun, who can play multiple positions, grew an inch or so, Cullop said. The coach determined guard Lindsay Baker “really worked on her defense and containing people” since her senior season at Warsaw Community in Indiana.

“There were little things with all three of them that got me excited,” Cullop said.

The remaining freshmen, Janice Monakana of England and Elena Alfredo of Spain, are home, and Cullop expects both to make their national teams. Junior Inma Zanoguera also is in Spain, and Cullop is hoping Zanoguera and Alfredo will be Spanish teammates for this summer’s European championships.

Players who are on campus will benefit from a new NCAA rule allowing women to practice twice a week in the summer.

“We watched the men take advantage of this rule last year, and I think every women’s coach in the country was envious,” Cullop said.

Assistant coach Vicki Hall, recovering from surgery on her hip, did not attend practice.

FOOTBALL COMMITMENTS: The Rockets picked up commitments over the weekend from Huron receiver Cody Thompson, Cincinnati Anderson offensive lineman Alex Pfeiffer, and Berrien Spring (Mich.) defensive end Jon Williams.

Contact Ryan Autullo at:, 419-724-6160, or on Twitter @AutulloBlade.