Donnie Tillman brings versatility and experience to a loaded New Mexico State team looking for its fourth straight WAC championship. Courtesy NMSU Athletics.

Tillman, Cole Among Key Newcomers to WAC Hoops

UNLV transfer Donnie Tillman and Georgia Tech transfer Evan Cole are among the top newcomers to the WAC in 2020-21. But, as we all know, there is a great deal of turnover in the WAC. This means, year after year, new faces emerge as potential stars in the WAC. 

A few names on a previous list include Milan Acquaah, Jake Toolson, Terrell Brown and Trevelin Queen among others. 

In 2020-21, along with Tillman and Cole, there are a bevy of new faces who could have immediate impacts in the WAC. However, this article will feature upperclassmen only. Another article will feature freshman players to keep an eye on in 2020-21. 

So, let’s get to it. Here are some of the top newcomers in the WAC. 

Donnie Tillman – New Mexico State

The hype is real in Las Cruces surrounding the former Utah and UNLV transfer. Tillman is athletic, experienced, and brings a competitive edge that head coach Chris Jans loves. 

“Hopefully a big one,” Jans said in regard to the impact Tillman will bring. “When people ask me about recruits when they sign, I’m always leery of that because I just don’t believe you really know what you have until you get to work with a young man for weeks and months.”

Jans continued describing what he believes Tillman will bring to the Aggies.

“I continue to be impressed with his approach … certainly he’s got experience,” Jans said. “He’s been around the block. He’s played three full years of Division I basketball at two good programs. So, for him being a newcomer, that experience, you can see it. He plays at a high level. You don’t have to teach him to play hard, practice hard. He loves to compete. He’s been a really good teammate. I love his versatility on the floor. He’s a guy that can play multiple positions and defend multiple positions … he’s gonna have to have a big year.”

Tillman averaged 10.1 points and 4.7 rebounds at UNLV in 2019-20. And in 2018-19 earned the Pac-12 Conference’s Sixth Man of the Year award while at Utah. Tillman averaged 10.5 points and 5.3 rebounds per game while playing for the Utes. 

Evan Cole – Utah Valley

Whenever Utah Valley head coach Mark Madsen is asked about Evan Cole, it’s like his whole countenance lights up. The Georgia Tech transfer had offers from BYU and Seton Hall among others. However, Cole chose the Wolverines and may be in store for his best season yet. At least that is what his head coach is expecting.

“He has an inside-out game,” Madsen said at WAC media days. “I think even his skillset, which we studied closely on tape from Georgia Tech, has exceeded our own expectations, which were already very high. He’s a game-changer when he gets on the court on both ends of the court. And, we’re really, really excited he’s here. He’s been one of the guys that has helped elevate the energy in practice every single day.”

Newcomers are abundant in the WAC
Evan Cole is a one of the top newcomers in the WAC and expected to play a huge role for the Wolverines in 2020-21. Courtesy UVU Athletics.

The stats during his time at Georgia Tech aren’t eye-popping in any way. 4.4 points and 3.6 rebounds while shooting 47.1 percent from the floor. Perhaps it was playing in the ACC or perhaps it just a matter of lack of minutes. Either way, Cole is going to see a huge uptick in minutes, giving him an opportunity to show the world what exactly his head coach is so excited about.

Jeff Otchere – UTRGV

UTRGV head coach now has two conference Defensive Players of the Year with the addition of Stony Brook transfer Jeff Otchere. The 6’11 grad student had 49 blocks in 2019-20 earning an America East All-Defensive Team selection.

In 2018-19, Otchere was 16th in the NCAA in blocks with 78, earning him America East Defensive Player of the Year honors. A rim protector surrounded by quality guards is exactly what Hill and the Vaqueros needed. Otchere’s presence will allow Javon Levi, Marek Nelson and the other perimeter players to be more aggressive in the back court. 

“Very excited,” Hill said. “Now he can clean things up. Now our guards can be a little more aggressive, gamble a little more, but gamble with discipline. And if you miss out, you got two, Sean (Rhea) blocks shots at a high rate and now you got one of the top defensive players and rim protectors in the country.” 

Angelo Stuart – Seattle

Terrell Brown was a triple-double waiting to happen night in and night out for the Redhawks in 2019-20. Now, Brown will finish his collegiate career at Arizona. So, who will step into those shoes? Well, junior college All-American Angelo Stuart should be on that radar.

Stuart earned All-American honors after wavering 17.8 points per game while shooting nearly 55 percent from the field. At Mineral Area College in Missouri, Stuart led the Cardinals to a 30-2 record, the Missouri Community College Athletic Conference Championship and the No. 1 see in the Region 16 Tournament. 

Stuart isn’t just a basketball player. Off the court, Stuart maintains a 4.0 GPA and earned NJCAA First Team All-Academic honors in 2019-20.

“Angelo had an amazing season on one of the top junior college teams in the country earning conference MVP honors while making things happen in the classroom with a 4.00 GPA,” Seattle U head coach Jim Hayford said. “We are very happy he is joining our program and expect him to make a great contribution on and off the court at Seattle U.”

Gorjok Gak – California Baptist

CBU head coach Rick Croy lost starting big men Zach Pirog and De’Jon Davis to graduation after the 2019-20 season. Both were rim protectors and extraordinary rebounders. And in the offseason, Croy made a splash with Florida transfer Gorjok Gak.

Newcomers at CBU
Florida transfer Gorjok Gak is a key newcomer for CBU as the Lancers have to replace their top six players from 2019-20. Courtesy CBU Athletics.

The 6’11 grad transfer has a 7-foot-4 wingspan and was a three-star prospect out of high school by ESPN, Rivals and 247 Sports. Yes, the stats at Florida don’t jump out at you, 86 points and 96 rebounds in 46 career appearances. 

But it is the height and length that Croy loves. And along with teammate Russell Barlow, Gak will give the Lancers protection in the paint. 

“To have depth inside, is something you hope for as a coach,” Croy said. “I think the biggest thing is that these guys are going to make each other better. When you only have one or two post guys, and you’re worried about those guys getting nicked up before competition, it’s hard to drive practice in a way which those guys can really go after it.”

Honorable mention 

There are also other newcomers in the WAC that are honorable mentions. While these four players are on the list, there is a trio at Seattle that already has loads of chemistry. New Mexico State welcomes other newcomers besides Tillman. Every roster in the WAC has newcomers that could potentially have significant impacts in 2020-21. The names below are players that stick out a little more because of the roles they are expected to play. 

  • Russell Barlow – CBU
  • Asbjørn Midtgaard – GCU
  • Daron Henson – Seattle
  • Jordan Brinson – Utah Valley





About the author

Kyle McDonald

Love everything about WAC Hoops so decided I wanted to write more about it and cover this amazing conference that just keeps getting better. Follow us on Twitter @wachoopsdigest for information, game analysis and much more.

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