With leading scorer and rebounder Kevin Coble out for the year with an injured left foot, the ‘Cats are looking for someone to make up for the loss of his production. Two sophomores who hope to step up in his absence — forward John Shurna and center Kyle Rowley — played internationally over the summer, which hopefully helped acclimate them to the competitive basketball they will see in the Big Ten this season.
Shurna competed in the FIBA U19 World Championship in New Zealand as a member of the U.S. under-19 national team. Joining him on the team were many of the top freshman in the country from last season, including the leading freshman scorer in Seth Curry, Kansas guard Tyshawn Taylor, and Butler guard/forward Gordon Hayward. Although many of these players are still developing, the US team was driven to win after finishing second in 2007.
“I was asked to compete to the best of my ability,” Shurna says. “It was very intense.”
The US came out at the top of the 16-team field, winning each of their nine games and defeating Greece for a second time in the title game. Shurna played in all nine games, averaging six points and 3.9 rebounds per game. He delivered Team USA’s only double-double of the tournament against Iran and also contributed double-digit scoring performances against Canada and Egypt.
Rowley, whose hometown is Arima, Trinidad, was selected to compete for the Trinidad and Tobago senior national team in the Caribbean Basketball Confederation (CBC). Although Rowley’s minutes were limited, he gained valuable experience playing with and against top-level competition.
“I was the youngest guy on the team and the next youngest was 24-years-old.” Rowley says. “A lot of the guys on the team play professionally in Europe or Asia so it was a learning experience for me.”
Despite competing against much older players, Rowley performed when he was in the game, picking up nine points and seven rebounds in only 20 total minutes. He thinks the presence of the older players on his team helped the most.
“I really learned to play through adversity. I was going up against good players everyday in practice and I had to learn to fight through it,” Rowley says. “The older guys helped motivate me to pull through.”
With both players entering their sophomore seasons, more is expected from them. Both believe their summer experiences helped.
As a freshman last season, Shurna averaged 7.3 points and 3.0 rebounds per game and showed flashes of brilliance last season. At 6’8” and 210 pounds, he has the size to ease Coble’s loss. He indicates that he expects improvement from himself this season.
“I was looking to improve my overall game in the tournament.” Shurna says. “Now, I feel that I am a better basketball player.”
At 7’0” and 280 pounds, Rowley has the potential to be a physical force in the paint. He says his participation in the CBC helped condition him.
“I focused on getting in shape and running the floor. Playing and practicing with these guys got me in really good shape.”
The results on the court are starting to show improvement. In the loss to Butler, Shurna scored 14 points while bringing down nine rebounds, which is the production the ‘Cats need to succeed this season. Rowley added six points in only 11 minutes, which is hopefully a sign he can become more of an offensive force this season. Shurna may have been especially motivated on Wednesday by the presence of Butler’s Gordon Hayward and Shelvin Mack, two of Shurna’s teammates over the summer.
“[Playing against them] was fun. Gordon was my roommate and we’ve stayed in touch and become good friends. It was all business on the court but I’m sure we’ll talk later and give each other a hard time,” Shurna says.
The early results are encouraging, but with the adversity the ‘Cats have faced so far this season, they need all the production they can get from their younger players. As the two sophomores continue to progress, the ‘Cats can be thankful that their international play has given them the skills to compete in the Big Ten.