The Stephen F. Austin Lumberjacks are now members of the Western Athletic Conference. The last decade is full of NCAA Tournament appearances and upsets, as well as a victory at Cameron Indoor. Looking forward, there is a path that includes a newly supercharged conference, one they have every equal chance of winning by the way, even as newbies.
In charge is sixth year head coach Kyle Keller, a longtime assistant in the region with experience in the Big 12 and SEC. His program is one of many tabbed with challenging conference favorites New Mexico State this season. They certainly plan to do so. SFA rounded out their 34-year tenure in the Southland conference with a 3rd place finish behind fellow Texas Four member Sam Houston State and regular season champion Nicholls State.
Stephen F. Austin’s juggernaut reputation in the Southland just 10 seasons back is undeniable. 5 regular season championships, 4 conference tournaments championships, 5 conference player of the year winners and four NCAA Tournament appearances can do that to a program. That was a lot to list, but with that amassed impressive history comes some asterisks. I don’t intend to dwell on the past or write in a negative manner too often, so you can read Mid-Major Madness’s release on it here. There is also a local news release from KLTV 7 on the school’s appeal to the NCAA to serve their ban in 20-21 and not 21-22 like other sports at their school here. Smart move in my opinion. In short, the program was forced to vacate wins, scholarships, conferences championships and an NCAA Tourney win because of an extremely low APR score that began nearly a decade ago.
But with their inaugural WAC season upon them, I can assure you it is old news and their opponents will have to focus on the present. Also presently, the Lumberjacks are darn good and bring a talented coach, veteran lineup and quality transfers to prove it to their new home.
Kyle Keller, 6th Season
Overall Record At SFA: 104-46* (60 wins vacated, officially recognized number 44-46)
2020-2021 Record: 16-5, 13-3 (3rd in the Southland)
Cameron Johnson, 6’4, Sr., G (Middle Tennessee State)
Charlie Daniels, 6’9, Gr.. F (Minnesota)
Jonathan Aku (Texas A&M) 6’10, Jr., F
Latrell Jossell (Kansas) 5’11, So., G
Jules Moor (Navarro Co.) 6’5, R-Jr., G
Diego Willis (NJIT) 6’4, Sr., G
Gavin Kensmil, 6’7, R-Sr., F
David Kachelries, 6’1, R-Sr., G
Roti Ware, 6’3, R-Sr., G
Calvin Solomon, 6’7, Jr., F
Nigel Hawkins, 6’4, Sr., G
Nana Antwi-Boasiako, 6’9, So., F
Predicted WAC Finish:
Breakdown: A New Home, A New Opportunity
It’s no secret that the Lumberjacks are one of the most formidable mid-major programs across the country. This despite their ban from any postseason play, including the Southland Conference Tournament. They still challenged for the regular season title throughout the 2020-21 season while managing to spoil a last Southland title($) for their rivals in the process.
With their entrance into the WAC, comes a new opportunity. Stephen F. Austin joins a resurging conference that has strategic plans to become a mid-major power with a strong southwestern footprint for years to come. This is a brilliant move by all parties involved and Stephen F. Austin is primed to challenge for conference titles year in and year out. I don’t think they’ll wait long at all, though. They have a proven and capable head coach armed with a strong returning starting five and some anticipated newcomers are the reason why. Let’s dive in.
The Lumberjacks Didn’t Lose Too Much
Below, I have a projected Lumberjack starting lineup featuring four of the five returning starters from last season. The missing piece is senior guard Cameron Johnson (15.3 PPG & 4.5 RPG) who opted to transfer to Middle Tennessee State this offseason. Johnson’s absence cannot be understated. However, this coaching staff has made sure to fill his spot on the wing the best they could.
His natural replacement in my eyes is 6’4 senior guard Nigel Hawkins, who himself started three games last season averaging 6.4 PPG, 2.4 RPG & 1.3 APG. Hawkins isn’t the 3-point shooter Johnson was (28.9 3P%). But, he shoots similarly inside the arc (52.4 2P%) and he gets to the line just as frequently (44 attempts, 5th on squad) shooting 65.9 FT%.
With an actual offseason full of practices and preparation, folks inside William R Johnson Coliseum will hope the Houston, TX native is up to the task. The other notable loss is 6’9 senior post Charlie Daniels (now a grad transfer at Minnesota), who was a key member of Keller’s rotation in 2020-21.
Returning Firepower Will Anchor A Championship Campaign
Aside from Johnson and Daniels, no other players who logged double-digit minutes were lost. This is key for Keller as he attempts to lead this Stephen F. Austin team into a new era of Lumberjack basketball. As mentioned before, this squad returns four starters including backcourt members David Kachelries (11.4 PPG) and Roti Ware (12.9 PPG). These two will be paired with a front-court comprised of combo-forward Calvin Solomon (7.7 PPG) and a name certainly highlighted on every conference foes scouting report, Gavin Kensmil (15.9 PPG).
The offense will be anchored around Kensmil, the leading returning scorer. The 6’7, 260-pound post has the length and strength to make him one of the most efficient players in the country when the ball is in his hands. Kensmil has top-50 rankings in effective field goal percentage (38th), true shot percentage (48th) and offensive rebound percentage (34th), per Kenpom($). Kensmils also had a conference leading field goal percentage of 63.1%, also good enough for 71st in the entire country. Easy to see why he is a two-time All-Southland selection.
Also noted is the Lumberjacks ability to score the basketball, having averaged 80.3 PPG last season, good enough for 21st in the nation. On top of that, they also play tough defense. This starts with returning senior guard Roti Ware, who averaged 1.9 SPG. Three more returning players averaged at least 1.3 steals per game, as well. As a unit Stephen F. Austin averages 9.5 a game, 5th best in the country. Something to keep opposing ball handlers up at night and a combination tough enough to cut down nets.
Newcomers Should Serve To Strengthen Title Hopes
Of the four incoming programs to the WAC, Stephen F. Austin may have kept their roster intact the best. Keller did so but also added high major transfers Jonathan Aku (1.8 PPG & 3.2 RPG at Texas A&M) and Latrell Jossell (1.3 PPG in 10 GMs at Kansas) to support a strong starting five. I see Aku challenging for starting minutes this season. Aku could eventually push Solomon to a 6thman role as a 6’10 big who saw double-digit minutes played in the SEC.
This squad could also use a defensive presence in the post. However, Aku didn’t exactly show those traits in College Station. Current froncourt duo Kensmil (0.2 BPG) and Solomon (1.0 BPG, team high) could use some help. Both stand 6’7 and average team-highs in fouls per game (2.6 for Kensmil & 3.1 for Solomon). Any relief to keep them on the floor longer is a no brainer for the Lumberjacks.
Also recruited to Nacogdoches was JUCO transfer Jules Moor. Moor is a former Stony Brook Seawolf and most recent Navarro College Bulldog where he averaged 13.1 PPG and 7.4 RPG. I expect Moor to challenge for starting minutes on the wing. Moor has stronger rebounding numbers, the ability to get to the foul stripe and slightly better shooting ability than current favorite to start Hawkins at 38.7% this past season. Another “newcomer” expected to have an impact is redshirt freshman Jaylin Jackson-Posey. At 6’2 195 pounds, Posey is a former three-star recruit with offers from Houston, Texas Tech and Texas A&M.
Projected Starting Lineup:
G-David Kachelries, 6’1 170
G-Roti Ware, 6’3 190
G-Nigel Hawkins, 6’4 195
F-Calvin Solomon, 6’7 200
F-Gavin Kensmil, 6’7 260
All-in-all, the WAC’s addition of Stephen F. Austin is an absolute win for the conference across the board. Especially given the impending expansion frenzy soon to come, this makes the move look even smarter as the WAC looks to challenge as a mid-major hoops power in the future. This squad will make things very interesting to watch in the top-half of the standings come fall. No one will be surprised if the Lumberjacks are the reason the Aggies miss out on a chance to go dancing again next spring. Though, as well all know, it will be no easy task. I can’t wait, thanks for reading.
Stephen F. Austin has currently announced their participation in the inaugural Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame Classic in Fort Worth, TX. They’ll kick things off on December 11th in Dickies Arena against the reigning three-time Atlantic Sun regular Season and Tournament Champions, the Liberty Flames. The event is only one day and features a triple-header including the Lumberjacks and Flames as well as Mississippi State vs. Colorado State and North Texas vs. UMass.
The 'Jacks are set to face Liberty in the inaugural @Hoophall Classic at Dickies Arena! 😈
— SFA Men’s Basketball (@SFA_MBB) August 2, 2021
Stephen F. Austin will also participate in the 2021 Men’s Cancun Challenge, the field also includes Mayan Bucknell, Middle Tennessee, Mercer, Rider, Buffalo, Illinois State and Saint Louis. The Lumberjacks are currently slated to kick things off in the U.S. on November 19th against Middle Tennessee State. Followed by a game in Mexico on November 23rd against Buffalo.
🏀 & 🌺 ☀️🏖️🌴🌊
— SFA Men’s Basketball (@SFA_MBB) July 13, 2021
Stephen F. Austin is also has two more games officially announced at the moment, home against UL-Monroe and at Kansas on Dec. 18th, per the D1-Docket.