NORFOLK ——The final piece of Old Dominion's 2012 recruiting class has a jump on his mates, courtesy of his background and a new NCAA rule.
Stuart McEwen, a native New Zealander, has enrolled at ODU for the spring semester and will practice and work out with the team the remainder of the season.
McEwen — the tall kid in street clothes at the end of the ODU bench — is 6-foot-9 and a rail-thin 190 pounds. He's the fifth member of a recruiting class that includes players at each traditional position: a point guard, two wings, a big forward and a post player.
"A real nice group," ODU coach Blaine Taylor said. "Kind of a socket set."
McEwen comes to ODU by way of St. Thomas More, a respected prep school hoops program in Connecticut where he made an outsized impression in just three months and 13 games.
"He's so genuine, so honest, so sincere," longtime St. Thomas More coach Jere Quinn said. "I'm just disappointed that I didn't have the chance to coach the kid for a whole year. He was the glue for our team. He's a kid who talks the entire game. He brings so many intangibles that American kids have let go by the wayside."
McEwen is more skilled than athletic. Quinn called him "a big-time shooter" with range out to 22 feet, but needs to get stronger.
He joins a recruiting class that includes 6-5 wing Aaron Bacote from Bethel, 6-1 guard Keenan Palmore from Atlanta, 6-4 wing Deon Clark from Naples, Fla., and 6-9 post player Ekene Anachebe from Fayette County, Ga.
McEwen's abbreviated stay at prep school was due to a recently implemented NCAA rule that requires athletes attending prep school to complete their competitive seasons within one calendar year of graduating high school, or begin to lose college eligibility.
McEwen, whose family lives in Sydney, Australia, completed high school last December. He and his family didn't finalize plans for him to come to the U.S. and attend prep school until last summer. It was facilitated by a longtime friend of Quinn's, a former college coach who currently bird-dogs talent Down Under.
McEwen could have remained at St. Thomas More for the entire school year, but had he competed he would have lost a year of college eligibility. Otherwise, he simply would have practiced with the team and attended school.
Better, he reasoned, to get a head start on acclimating to college, athletically and academically. ODU's coaches saw him and his team at a prep showcase in Connecticut. They were interested and had a scholarship available.
McEwen could compete for the Monarchs immediately, but the staff and he believe that he would be best served by redshirting the second semester.
"It's going to take me a while, I think, to get really competitive," McEwen said this week. "Strength is a big thing. Adjusting to the CAA and style of play at the college level."
Said Taylor, "For us, it's been somewhat of a blessing. Because of the rule, he was going to go somewhere mid-year. In this case, we get a redshirt year out of it. It's too bad that he didn't get to play his post-grad year there and play the whole season. The bonus is we get him for a half-year and he might be more ready for next year."
McEwen has practiced only a couple of times with his new teammates. Those sessions, as well as his time at St. Thomas More, confirmed what he already thought.
"When I was at prep school," he said, "I knew that the leagues here and the players are so much quicker and more athletic than what you see in Australia. I'm not the quickest guy, and I know if they're all quick and strong and fast, I've got to be smart — a smart player. That's my point of difference, I think, is my intelligence as a basketball player. I think I've got a pretty good basketball IQ."
McEwen doesn't lack effort. Taylor said he already sees how attentive and diligent he is. Quinn, who has coached dozens of future college players in 34 years at St. Thomas More, said that McEwen is as hard a worker as he has ever coached.
"First in the gym, last to leave," he said. "First in the weight room, last to leave."
Taylor said that, "Jere's passing comment to us was, he'll outwork anybody you've got. I'd like to think that's not true, but I'd also like to see if he can."
The Monarchs have had several players from Down Under in Taylor's regime. Senior Trian Iliadis is from Australia, as was all-conference forward Alex Loughton, currently playing professionally in Australia, as well as center Sam Harris. Like all of them, McEwen is chatty and engaging.
McEwen arrived at ODU with a full mop of hair that made him look a couple inches taller. By late in the week, however, he sported a boot camp buzz cut, prompted by a James Madison fan behind the ODU bench in Harrisonburg last Monday. She hazed McEwen and said that he looked like Keith Richards, the Rolling Stones' agelessly disheveled guitarist.
"I wasn't sure that was a compliment," McEwen deadpanned. "I'm not sure I want that comparison. I'm not much of a musician. I don't think she was commenting on my musical ability. So I decided I had to get it out of there and start from scratch. But it was pretty funny."
He eagerly anticipates full immersion into the ODU and U.S. college experience. He appears to be devoid of the entitlement gene common in many domestic athletes.
"I'm hoping to earn minutes in the next year or year-and-a-half," he said, "but I know my playing time will depend on how much I improve."
Said Quinn: "He won't be Old Dominion's greatest athlete. As a piece of a team, he's just going to make them a better team."