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R.J. Eytle-Rock and Brandon Horvath follow former UMBC men’s basketball coach Ryan Odom to Utah State

R.J. Eytle-Rock, one of the UMBC men’s basketball program’s top players this past season, announced Monday that he has transferred to Utah State.

Southern High graduate Brandon Horvath also announced he was leaving UMBC for Utah State.

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Eytle-Rock, a 6-foot-3, 225-pound guard, follows coach Ryan Odom, who left the Retrievers and was officially announced as the Aggies head coach on April 5. Odom succeeded Craig Smith, who resigned March 27.

Eytle-Rock wrapped up a junior season in which he led UMBC in scoring at 14.3 points per game and assists at 2.5 per game. He was also tied for first in 3-point percentage (.400) and ranked second in overall field-goal percentage (.474) and third in rebounding at 4.9 per game.

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Eytle-Rock was instrumental in the Retrievers earning a share of their first America East regular-season title since 2008 and collecting the No. 1 seed and homecourt advantage throughout the conference tournament. But the team lost, 79-77, to No. 6 seed UMass Lowell in a semifinal at the UMBC Event Center in Catonsville on March 6.

Eytle-Rock started all 20 games this past season after missing three games as a freshman in 2018-19 and 11 games as a sophomore in 2019-20 due to a variety of injuries. Odom in February contributed Eytle-Rock’s availability to his increased productivity.

“This is the first year that he’s been able to play every game, and obviously, he’s gotten markedly better since his freshman year,” said Odom, who did not return a request for comment. “He came in as a guy that was a facilitator, a big guard. Could play point guard, could guard 1 through 4. He’s a really good defender, an unselfish player. I’ve really challenged him as he’s grown into his game to become more aggressive offensively. I couldn’t even get him to shoot a 3-point shot his freshman year, and now he’s going one-on-one and making plays and being the aggressive player that we need him to be. I’m just proud that he’s changed over time to become more confident.

“He’s a tough guy to guard, and he’s gotten in better shape over the course of the time that he’s been here. That’s been something that has been key for him. He’s always been a quiet kid. He’s the lovable guy on the team, the guy that everybody loves. He’s just a great teammate, and he’s becoming a much stronger leader. It’s not always him using his voice to do things. When they see him playing the way an aggressive leader plays, and our team kind of feeds off of that. So he’s a key player for us. We need him to play well for us to win.”

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Horvath had already played four seasons at UMBC and was on track to earn a bachelor’s degree in economics. Like all college basketball players, the West River resident was granted an additional year of eligibility by the NCAA because of the coronavirus.

Horvath’s decision-making process become a bit more complicated when Odom announced he was leaving UMBC to accept the same position at Utah State.

“Brandon had a big decision anyway. Does he go pro? Does he go back to UMBC? Does he transfer? When I decided to take this job at Utah State, that opened another opportunity,” Odom said.

Horvath chose to follow Odom to Utah State and test his talents on a higher level in the Mountain West Conference. The 6-foot-10, 210-pound forward played in 113 games with 54 starts for UMBC and scored 986 points.

“It’s a blessing to get another year of eligibility during these crazy times,” Horvath said. “At the same time, I did have some offers to play pro ball overseas that I had to consider. After talking to family, I felt I could improve as a basketball player and further my education by going to Utah State.”

Horvath will pursue a master’s degree through a one-year program at Utah State with the knowledge that a strong season at a program of that caliber could draw the interest of NBA scouts.

Eytle-Rock’s and Horvath’s departures leave new Retrievers coach Jim Ferry with a roster in flux. Senior forwards Dimitrije Spasojevic and Daniel Akin and senior point guard Darnell Rogers could return and use another year of eligibility provided by the coronavirus pandemic, transfer, or graduate and end their playing careers. Junior shooting guards L.J. Owens (Severn) and Keondre Kennedy could also go elsewhere or remain at UMBC.

Bill Wagner contributed to this story.

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