OLLU men’s basketball relies heavily on San Antonio area recruits
Fourth-year program attributes success to local talent
by Patty Constantin
OLLU Sports Information Director
In just three years, the Our Lady of the Lake University (OLLU) men’s basketball team has had success beyond expectations. Head Coach Russell Vanlandingham has been able to accomplish this feat by spending a lot of time recruiting student-athletes from the Saints’ own backyard.
A product of San Antonio’s East Central High School, Vanlandingham knows San Antonio has a lot of talent and is often under-recruited in favor of schools in Houston and Dallas. “I have established relationships with local high school coaches, and they appreciate that we spend time in their gyms taking serious looks at their guys.”
During the inaugural season – 2009-2010 – the Saints shocked the sixth-ranked team in the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics (NAIA), Louisiana State University – Shreveport, by a score of 98-89. It was LSU’s first loss of the season that year. The Saints also delivered Red River Athletic Conference powerhouse Texas Wesleyan University its first loss of the season by a score of 85-66. That lost also was the first in 25 consecutive regular season conference wins for the Rams. The team captured a share of the regular season conference title despite being picked to finish 10th in pre-season polls.
Leading the Saints the first year was top recruit Dionelle Rucker, who came from New Life Christian Academy; Donavon Gage, Steele High School; Sherman Howard, Clemens High School; and Eddie Ortiz, Wagner High School.
Ortiz, who led his Wagner team to the state championships in the 2007-2008 season, returned to the Saints in 2010-2011, along with Rucker, Gage and Howard. The Saints began their second season ranked third in the conference and 34th in the nation. Warren High School’s Lo’Ron Smith and Stevens High School’s A.J. Govan joined the Saints in their sophomore year and both contributed significantly to the second-year team’s success.
Highlights of the 2010-2011 season include beating NCAA Division I Texas State University 127-126 in San Marcos. The Saints handed NAIA leader LSU-Shreveport its first loss of the season in 2010, and during that competition, Smith had a near-perfect game as he connected on 7-of-9 field goals including the game-winning 3-pointer.
Last year, the Saints added Clark High School’s Jacob Palacios and Stevens High School’s Josh Orta. The two, along with Ortiz, Smith and Govan all played key roles in the Saints success as the team would go on to win the conference title and earn an automatic berth to the NAIA Men’s Basketball DI National Championship Tournament. Orta, a transfer from St. Mary’s University, was recognized as NAIA Player of the Week. In his first year, he averaged 12.4 ppg., 6.1 apg. and 2.7 spg. He tallied 215 assists and 96 steals. Orta finished with five double-doubles and one triple-double.
The Saints are looking to add several local standouts to this upcoming season’s roster. Jerell Ellis, a graduate of Warren High School, is expected to contribute immediately for the Saints. The 6’3” shooting guard guided Warren to the Class 5A state semifinals and a 35-6 record last year. “Jerell is one of the top players in the city and he has a record of success,” said Vanlandingham.
Also joining the team is Deondre Logan, a transfer from Jacksonville College and a graduate of San Antonio’s Taft High School. The Raiders went 34-6 during Logan’s senior year, and he led the team in scoring (14.8 ppg.), in field goals (202/407), in offensive rebounds (69) and in defensive rebounds (122). “Deondre will fit perfectly in our up-tempo style. I expect him to be one of the top newcomers in the conference this year,” Vanlandingham said.
Judson High School graduate Demarcus Richardson also will join the Saints. Richardson, a transfer from Paris Junior College, led his team to a NJCAA Region 14 regular season conference championship.
This season will be the final year for Smith, Govan and Orta. It will also mark the fourth year for Ortiz, who has already played in more games than anyone else at OLLU. He has missed just two games in his three years, and he undoubtedly will lead the Saints this year as they defend their conference title and strive for a repeat appearance in the national championships in Kansas City.
In each of their first three seasons, the Saints have led the conference in scoring, and last season, their offense was at the top of the NAIA with an average of 99.543 ppg. The team has averaged 23 wins a season, and the Saints have done it with San Antonians at the helm.
“I will continue to make San Antonio our main recruiting area, and I truly believe we can build a consistent winner with local talent.”