ISU's big hoops season leads duo to commit to become Sycamores

May 2—Avila, Conwell, Larry, Swope, Kent, Bledson and Schertz. As those names fade from present-day Sycamore basketball, fans will acclimate to those of Daughtry, Vorst, Gray, Summers, Alderink, Wagner, Bean, Graves and others to come soon.

The times they are a changin' for the Indiana State men's team and the newest faces are anxious to get to Terre Haute.

"I really feel like I can get people up out of their seats," said incoming guard Jahni Summers, a freshman transfer from Coffeyville Community College in Kansas.

Incoming 6-foot-7 power forward Merritt Alderink, a senior at Zeeland West High School in Michigan, is equally enthusiastic.

"I'm excited about my commitment to Indiana State and can't wait to play in the Hulman Center in front of Sycamore fans and the Terre Haute community," he said.

Commitments for the 2024-25 season continue to replenish the ISU roster as new coach Matthew Graves rebuilds the program. ISU promoted him to head coach after serving as associate head coach for three seasons under Josh Schertz, who left April 6 to lead the Saint Louis University Billikens. The core of the Sycamore team that finished 32-7 as National Invitation Tournament runners-up last season departed via the NCAA transfer portal too.

Robbie Avila and Isaiah Swope went with Schertz to SLU. Jayson Kent and Julian Larry transferred to Texas, Ryan Conwell to Xavier, Masen Miller to North Dakota State and Eli Shetlar to Drake.

Also, two of three high school recruits who'd committed to ISU in November sought and received a release from their national letters of intent — 6-8 Icelander Robert "Sean" Birmingham and 6-11 Canadian Christian Nitu.

Four potential returnees stayed with ISU — forward Jayden Daughtry, center Derek Vorst, guard Aaron Gray and preferred walk-on Cooper Bean.

This week, Graves secured three newcomers. Former Rice guard Camp Wagner came through the portal to ISU on Monday. Two days later, Summers, an Evansville native, transferred from Coffeyville CC, and Alderink reaffirmed his November commitment to ISU.

Alderink helped lead Zeeland West to a 20-8 season record. He averaged 13.7 points, 7.5 rebounds, 2 assists and 1.4 steals per game.

Alderink got to witness in person ISU's 75-67 win over Drake on Feb. 3 in a packed Hulman Center. The atmosphere was something Alderink hopes to be a part of in seasons to come.

"I was able to get a glimpse of just how electric it can be when I attended the home game against Drake this season," Alderink said Thursday.

"Wow. Working with coach Graves, his staf, and my teammates to push each other to the highest level and win games is something I can't wait to do."

Versatility and unselfishness are among his attributes.

"One of the things I offer as a player is that I enjoy making a great pass to a teammate for a score as much, if not more, than I like scoring myself," Alderink said. "Making plays for each other so Indiana State gets the win — that's what I want to help bring to the game."

Alderink also competed for the Zeeland track team as a hurdler, high jumper and shot putter.

"Track has definitely been a special part of my high school experience," he said.

Likewise, Summers believes he brings a wide-ranging skill set to next season's Sycamore roster. He averaged 18.2 points, 4.5 rebounds and 1.6 assists per game for the Coffeyville Red Ravens, who finished the junior-college season 14-18 overall. Summers hit 45% of his shots from the field, 37.1% from 3-point range and 76.7% from the free throw line.

"I really feel like I can do it all," Summers said, citing his ability to score off his dribble, shoot from distance or pass to a teammate for a basket.

Terre Haute basketball followers might have seen Summers last play as a high schooler in 2022, when he scored 25 points for Evansville Harrison in a loss to Terre Haute North. After high school, Summers played at DME Academy in Daytona, Fla., where his team traveled extensively to high-caliber games.

"It was like way more serious, way more competitive," Summers said of the academy's season. "I was playing against four-star and five-star athletes that went on to play at 'Power-5' schools." That experience "elevated my game."

The 20-year-old, whose name is pronounced "Juh-NIGH," said he picked ISU after making a visit to campus and talking with Graves and his assistants. Another factor was that his Coffeyville assistant coach, Jake Odum, is a Terre Haute native and former ISU standout. Odum also is expected to join Graves' staff soon.

"I already had a relationship with coach Odum, so that was a foot in the door," Summers said. "You don't get that opportunity often."

Odum's experience as a point guard at the NCAA Division I level and professionally overseas was important to Summers. "That's what made me go with him to Coffeyville and to Indiana State," he said.

The success of last season's ISU team also swayed Summers. That momentum "is definitely going to be there," he said.

—Terms of Graves' contract released — In response to a public-records request by the Tribune-Star, ISU released the details of a memorandum of understanding on Graves' contract.

ISU Legal Services emphasized in its response "some of the terms expressed in the [memorandum] are still being negotiated."

The agreement calls for a five-year deal through March 31, 2029, with an annual salary of $263,000, plus a $137,000 media stipend. Graves could also receive performance bonuses for receiving Missouri Valley Conference Coach of the Year ($5,000), National Coach of the Year ($10,000), a MVC championship (outright $7,500; partial $5,000), NCAA Tournament appearance ($10,000), NCAA Tournament win ($15,000), a cumulative team grade-point average above 3.0 ($2,500), and season winning percentages ($3,500 to $6,500).

Also, a university buyout of Graves' contract (without cause) would be 75% of the remaining balance due within 60 days. The coach's buyout of his contract (without cause) ranges from $400,000 after one season or less, to $100,000 prior to the fifth season. The salary pool for Graves' three assistants and a director of operations totals $364,115 annually.

The memorandum states that it "constitutes an offer to enter a binding agreement subject to execution of a mutually acceptable employment agreement consistent with these terms and conditions within 60 days of the date of this term sheet."

The memorandum was signed April 11.