In the wee hours of Monday morning, Chattanooga and new head coach Dan Earl got their first big commitment to the program. Jake Stephens who is arguably the best offensive player in the SoCon will stay in the league and follow his head coach to his new gig.
“Coach Earl has meant so much to me. From the beginning, he took a chance on me and allowed me to pursue my dreams of being D1,” Stephens told The Portal Report, “It was a long tough process but I’m happy in the decision and happy that I’ll be able to play with him again.”
Stephens grew year-in and year-out under coach Earl and will have a chance to do that yet again. After averaging 7 points per game in his first two years, he averaged nearly 15 points per game last year and followed that up with 19.6 points per game this season.
Before this season, Stephens did a lot of his work inside the arch. He was an effective shooter from behind the arch, but nothing to write home about.
The 6-11 center decided to take that into his own hands this offseason and definitely improved not only there but in all facets of his offense.
While finishing the season with a 49% three-point percentage, he ranked third in the country in three-point percentage on KenPom. That wasn’t the only thing he was nationally ranked in as he finished top ten in the country in both effective field goal percentage and true shooting percentage, along with 35th in offensive rating.
“I mean every year, I try to focus on one particular thing to work on. Last year obviously being three-point shooting,” Stephens said, “This year, I just think it’s going to be athleticism and working on my body. The goal is to keep going and average more points, shoot better from the field but I’m understanding that I had a pretty good year. So, if I can look better and feel better doing that, then I think that will be the biggest goal for this season.”
If he is working on his body like he did his three-point shooting last season, that’s scary news for the SoCon because he is quite a good defender as well. Last season, he ranked second in the league in both defensive rating percentage and block percentage, so he can get up there. He showed that against Chattanooga last season, getting seven defensive rebounds and two blocks in a narrow loss in Virginia.
Now, the kid has barely ever been outside of either West Virginia or Virginia, only going from the hotel to the arena when traveling around the league. Coming from a town with a population of 5,319, Stephens was taken away with how large of a city Chattanooga is on his visit over the weekend.
“I didn’t know anything about the city and you know, to my surprise it was a lot bigger than I thought,” Stephens said, “I’d like to think here at VMI we have a very loyal fanbase but they kinda take that to a new level. Almost double the size of our stadium and they get pretty good crowds on the regular.”
Stephens will be spending more than just one game in McKenzie Arena this season and although the league and travel will be the same, they’ll be changing faces. At the expense of the other nine teams in the league, that might not be a great sign when they see Stephens again.