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Season Preview: Replacing Hunter and Freemantle

Xavier is behind the eight ball in the frountcourt before the season even starts.

Pittsburgh v Xavier Photo by Jacob Kupferman/Getty Images

We’re back! The summer was over. It was filled with two baseball teams that flattered to deceive, an excellent Women’s World Cup, and the oppressive humid heat that comes with Ohio in the summer. That’s all in the past now. College basketball, praise God, is back. With that comes your favorite (just go with it) brother-run Xavier site. The podcast will be back soon, but for now we’re jumping into previewing the team that will take the court for Xavier this year.

As I’m sure anyone reading this blog is aware, Zach Freemantle and Jerome Hunter are both out for the upcoming Xavier season. This is good news for people who love bad news. Freemantle and Hunter were at the center of most talking points in the back half of last season, but not for the play together. Freemantle went down with another foot injury that has given him issues since the dawn of the 2021 season. Jerome was happy to step in to the starting spot, and reached his pinnacle when he, almost single-handedly, save Xavier’s season in the Round of 64 against Kennesaw State.

Both players saw their fair share of ups and downs while wearing a Musketeers jersey. For Freemantle, he burst onto the scene as a freshman, and looked like a star in the making. His sophomore season saw him become more of a focal point to a Xavier offense that started the year hot, and couldn’t get it across the line. Freemantle himself had a decent year, but was called out for his toughness, or lack thereof, in the paint. Zach struggled through an injury-hampered junior season, before returning for his senior year. He posted the best numbers of his career, and looked like a guy for whom things had finally clicked. Obviously, this didn’t last, and his season was ended by another injury to his foot.

Jerome “Big Rome” Hunter stepped into the starting lineup in Zach’s absence, and did a phenomenal job. Hunter’s first season at Xavier was one to forget. For every hustle play he made on defense, there was a missed shot, a lapse in judegment, or good old-fashioned bad luck. Jerome couldn’t seem to get it right no matter how hard he worked, and, to be fair to him, hard work was never an issue that came up. It was this work ethic and dedication that got him his own fan club on Twitter (now “X”, I guess) and had him set to take a starting spot. Jerome was incredible. He hassled opposing stars on defense, was a stellar fifth choice for an offense loaded with scoring, and endeared himself to a fan base who had come full-circle on its opinion of him.

Given everything I just wrote, it’s clear to see that Xavier will be missing two big pieces moving forward. As Brad laid out in our first preview article (read that if you haven’t yet) the roster only sort-of resembles the one that made the Sweet 16 seven months ago. Sean Miller has brought in his own traditional recruits, while going ham in ths transfer portal, and also picking up overseas talent.

Transfer Abou Ousmane comes in from North Texas. Ousmane did not put up the gaudy offensive stats of Freemantle last season, but is a force in the paint defensively. A skilled offensive rebounder (OR%12.6 ranking 72 naionally), Ousmane is imposing in the lane with his physicality. This holds true on defense, as he spent most of last season blocking the oppostion at a rate that was top-100 nationally.

Now for the european players. Lithuanian small forward Gytis Nemeiska stands at 6 foot 7 inches, and joins from Lithuanian side Zalgaris II. Nemeiska is a decent scorere from all levels, but prefers to do work inside the arc. He posted just over 11 ppg last season, while being a solid rebounder for his size with over 6 per game.

Next up is Lazar Djokovic. Lazar (not pronounced like “Lazer”, unfortunately) comes in from Serbia. He performed well at the U19 World Cup over the summer where he averaged a shade under 15 ppg against some of the world’s best young talents. Like Gytis, he can score from all levels, but, at 6 foot 9 inches, does a bulk of his work in the paint. Djokovic also gets on the glass well, averaging over 7rpg for his country.

The latest addition to Xavier’s roster is Sasa Ciani of Slovenia. Ciani performed well in the European U20 Championships, including a doulbe-doulbe against Spain. Like Djokovic, he stands at 6 foot 9 inches, but does not shoot the three at as high a rate. Ciani has posted jaw-dropping numbers when he has gotten extended run in any team he has played for. He scores well in the paint and eats up rebounds at a high rate.

Frontcourt minutes will be up for grabs as the season approaches. Miller has done more than just plug the holes with these incoming transfers. They are obviously talented, and bring in a varied set of skills to a team that will need them to click together.