Mount Pleasant — David DiLeo enters his senior season at Central Michigan as the top perimeter threat in the Mid-American Conference, a reason the Chippewas could be putting up big numbers again this season.
DiLeo, a 6-foot-8, 220-pound forward, averaged 12.1 points and 4.9 rebounds last season to help the Chippewas to a 23-12 record (10-8 MAC). He connected on 41.7 percent of his 3-pointers, making 93, tied for most in the MAC.
The Chippewas have averaged 20 wins the last five years, 63-19 at McGuirk Arena, but are still in search of their first MAC title since Chris Kaman led them to the conference championship back in 2003.
DiLeo ranks third in school history in career 3-pointers attempted (668) and fourth in 3-pointers made (253). He showed he could get things done on both ends of the court last season, contributing a double-double (24 points, 10 rebounds) in a road win over rival Western Michigan.
DiLeo isn’t bothered that the NCAA moved the 3-point line back this season to 22 feet, 1 3/4 inches, from 20 feet, 9 inches, to match the international distance.
“Yes, it’s like a foot and a half back,” said DiLeo of the 3-point line. “I noticed it a little bit earlier, but after my freshman year, when I had a successful year shooting, I was kind of known as a shooter, teams started forcing me out there, so I’ve actually just throughout my career worked on a little deeper shots. So I don’t think it should be too much of a problem.”
DiLeo will be reunited with his former high school teammate, Devontae Lane, a point guard and JC transfer. They joined forces to win a state championship while playing for New Hampton High in Iowa City.
“Me and Devontae know each other pretty well and know each other’s game, so having him come in and play with us, he really gets the offense moving,” DiLeo said. “He can really push the ball in transition, get in the lane and finish or dish out, so he’s a really solid addition.
The Chippewas averaged 82.7 points last season, shooting 45.5 percent from the floor and 37.1 percent from 3-point territory (305-of-822), returning three starters in DiLeo, 6-5, 220-pound senior guard Kevin McKay (11.3 points, 7.5 rebounds) and 6-6, 225-pound senior forward Rob Montgomery (10.8 points, 5.7 rebounds). But they must replace point guard Larry Austin, who averaged 17.5 points, 6.3 rebounds and 6 assists in his lone season, earning second-team All-MAC honors.
Senior guard Dallas Morgan is instant offense off the bench, scoring in double figures in six of CMU’s last nine games, and redshirt freshman guard P.J. Mitchell is also expected to contribute.
Lane will have pressure on him to fill Austin’s shoes, but he is looking forward to the challenge.
“Dave (DiLeo) was my teammate in high school and Rob (Montgomery) was also my teammate at Indian Hills (Community College),” Lane said. “I played with him my freshman year when he was a sophomore, and that played a huge role for me coming here, just being comfortable with them on the floor.”
“Dave can shoot the crap out of the ball, can guard 1-through-4. Rob is a great rebounder, finishes around the rim.”
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Lane, who was offered by Eastern Michigan for football coming out of high school, said his biggest strengths are attacking the basket, and shooting off ball screens.
McKay, who played his high school ball at Warren De La Salle, wants a MAC championship to close out his career.
“We’re just trying our best to make this last year definitely our best year,” McKay said. “We haven’t won a MAC championship yet or gotten to a championship (game).”
McKay arrived in Mount Pleasant the year after the Chippewas reached the MAC tournament championship game in 2015, when they ranked fifth nationally in 3-pointers attempted (26.6) and lost the title game to Buffalo, 89-84.
McKay likes what he sees in Lane. Travon Broadway, a 6-5 JC transfer from Iowa Western, and 6-4 guard Deschon Winston, a transfer from City College of San Francisco, are also expected to play big roles.
“Lane is showing leadership ability and is running the offense really efficiently,” McKay said. “He’s a calming presence. You want to give him the ball and let him calm everything down, and when he has the ball you feel like everything is going to go smooth. He’s great at finding the open man and getting to the basket and finishing. He’s definitely somebody we’re going to rely on a lot this year.”
Keno Davis, now in his eighth year as head coach of the Chippewas, will have a wait-and-see attitude regarding the 3-point line. CMU averaged 23.4 shots from deep range last season with Savannah State ranking first in the nation at 38.4.
“I think there’s going to be an impact where I didn’t feel like we saw as much of an impact the last time it moved back (in 2008-09),” said Davis, who guided the Chippewas to consecutive 20-win seasons for the first time since the mid-1960s, going 21-15 in 2017-18. “We’re trying to adapt. We’re trying to work through it and get better – or eventually you’re going to have to limit how many shots certain guys are going to take.”
► Coach: Keno Davis (eighth season, 121-109, 52-72 MAC)
► Last season: 23-12 (10-8 MAC)
► Top returning players: David DiLeo, 6-7, Sr., forward (12.1 points, 4.9 rebounds, 93 3-pointers); Kevin McKay, 6-5, Sr., guard (11.3 points, 7.5 rebounds); Rob Montgomery, 6-6, Sr., forward (10.8 points, 5.7 rebounds).
► Who can’t have a bad season? DiLeo, who is CMU’s top perimeter threat. He must continue to knock down deep shots, with the 3-point line being pushed back nearly a foot and a half.
► Others to watch: Devontae Lane will be called upon to run the offense with All-MAC second-team point guard Larry Austin gone after having a sensational season in his lone year after coming in as a grad transfer. Expect senior guard Dallas Morgan to average 12-to-15 points and make a few 3-pointers a game. He averaged 8.1 points off the bench last season but had a strong second half.
► CMU can win the MAC if: DiLeo, McKay and Montgomery have their best seasons and JC transfers Lane, Travon Broadway and Deschon Winston have smooth transitions to Division 1.