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Case Western Reserve University reaches tournament with smart basketball

Case Western Reserve University basketball team
CWRU Athletics
The Case Western Reserve University basketball team heads to the NCAA Division III tournament after winning its first-ever conference title

A group of future doctors, engineers and lawyers is excelling on the basketball court at Case Western Reserve University. The team is heading to the NCAA Division III college tournament this week after winning its first ever regular-season University Athletic Association (UAA) conference title.

CWRU (21-3) is building on last year’s success, when the team reached the tournament for the first time in program history and advanced to the Sweet 16. This year’s 21 wins is the most in program history, along with 11 conference wins.

Ideastream Public Media’s sports commentator Terry Pluto says one key to Spartans' success on the court is the transfer portal, which is an online database where student athletes can declare their intent to play for a different school.

“Because Case Western is so strong academically, think about their graduate programs that they have," said Pluto. "See, in the NCAA, sometimes you earn an extra year if you graduate early in four years from your undergrad. So, you go to another school, pick up a year and go to grad school. Or sometimes you went to a place like Mercer University in Macon, Georgia, and that's (CWRU's) leading scorer, Mitch Prendergast.”

 Case Western Reserve University's Mitch Prendergast against Emory University.
Tim Phillis
Case Western Reserve University Athletics
Case Western Reserve University's Mitch Prendergast scored a season-high 29 points against Emory in a home game on Feb. 12, 2023.

Prendergast wanted to get his master's in finance and see if he could play more basketball, so he enrolled at CWRU, where he is averaging 18 points per game.

Pluto said there’s another dynamic to the team's use of the transfer portal.

“Maybe some of these kids, by the way, couldn't get into Case Western out of high school. Maybe their test scores weren't quite high enough. Then they went to a university somewhere else, did extremely well academically. And now suddenly those credentials now open the door for grad school at a place like Case,” he said.

Pluto said being able to attract graduate students gives CWRU an advantage.

“When you get a kid that's a graduate transfer, he’s 22, 23, maybe even some are 24 [years old]. You know, they’re playing against 18, 19-year-olds in some cases, that sort of a man against younger kids. And they play basketball, they've been coached more. It just brings a certain maturity to it.”

Another one of their standout players is Umar Rashid, who committed to coming to the school during the height of the pandemic without ever stepping foot on campus. Coaches saw a scouting tape of him on Twitter and talked to him on Zoom.

Umar Rashid is a forward for the Case Western Reserve University Spartans, averaging 13 points per game in his sophomore year. He's also a computer science major.
Tim Phillis
Case Western Reserve University Athletics
Umar Rashid is a forward for the Case Western Reserve University Spartans, averaging 13 points per game in his sophomore year. He's also a computer science major.

“Umar Rashid is from Georgia and he averaged 18 points, 10 rebounds in high school. By the way, 4.5 GPA," said Pluto. "He actually wanted to go to Georgia Tech, does not get in. He's talking to some friends and hears about Case Western because he's looking for a strong school academically.”

As for the academics, the team has a 3.65 GPA. Coach Todd McGuiness limits practice to accommodate labs and exams. “And he said, ‘If you don't want to do that, you just shouldn't coach at these types of schools,’” Pluto said.

The players have big goals off the court.

“Cole Frilling, who's their leading rebounder, is also taking aerospace engineering," Pluto said. "And then they also have kids like Luke Thornburn, who’s in pre-med, and you just go right down the line. And so, it's not as if they suddenly have just trashed academics. They're suddenly winning.”

CWRU begins the Division III Tournament Friday against Arcadia (15-11) at 6:20 p.m. at Horsburgh Gymnasium on the CWRU campus.

Also competing in the tournament is John Carroll University and Mount Union University. And the Baldwin Wallace University women’s team also earned a berth to its tournament.

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