Heading into the last weekend of conference play in each of the last two seasons, the Columbia men’s basketball team held the advantage for the final spot in the Ivy Tournament. Sweeps on the road by Brown and Yale in 2017, as well as losses to Dartmouth and Harvard this past March, kept the Lions away from the league’s postseason both years. Coach Jim Engles, heading into his third year as head coach in Morningside Heights, will look to change his team’s fortunes in 2018-2019 as Columbia seeks its first visit to Ivy Madness.
The Lions finished last season 8-19 with a 5-9 fifth place record in the Ivy League. In conference play, they were 5-2 at Levien Gymnasium, but winless away from home. The bright spots for Columbia were a 16 made three pointer performance against Cornell, a 83-76 win over eventual co-champion Harvard and a 25 point win over Princeton. The Lions averaged 76.4 points and 10 made threes a game overall, as well as 77.8 points and 9.4 made threes in the Ancient Eight. Their opponents, however, scored 77.2 points and 10 made threes overall, while conference foes put up 78.1 points and 10.9 made threes a game. Looking towards 2018-2019, Columbia will need to keep its offense intact, while improving its three point defense (38.4 percent in Division 1 games and 39.8 percent in Ivy League) if it wants to move into the league’s upper division.
Next season’s edition of the Light Blue & White will be led by junior guard Mike Smith, who was selected to last year’s All-Ivy second team. The Chicago-area native was tops in the conference in assists (4.6 per game), second in scoring (17.6 per game), fourth in free throw rate (84.2 percent), and sixth in minutes (34.0 per game). Seniors Quentin Adlesh and Lukas Meisner will return to give the Lions added experience in the starting lineup. Adlesh, a 6′ 0″ guard, averaged 11.4 points per game on 46.5 percent shooting with 72 made threes at a league-leading 44.2 percent rate. Meisler, a 6′ 8″ forward, had 11.2 points per game on 50.0 percent shooting with 43 made threes at a 41.7 percent rate. He also was tops in the league with 7.5 rebounds per game, including a league-best 6.0 defensive boards per contest.
The Lions lose two athletes to graduation and two to transfer. Nate Hickman, a 27 game starter who averaged 8.7 points and 3.1 rebounds a game, and Kyle Castlin, who averaged 10.5 points and 3.8 boards a game, finished their four years at Columbia this spring. Castlin, who has one year of eligibility remaining, has moved to Xavier for a graduate transfer season in 2018-2019. Jaron Faulds, a four-star power forward from Michigan, and Myles Hanson, a two- star small forward from Minnesota, left the program to pursue other options. As of the time of this article, Faulds has not chosen a school for the fall, but Hanson will join Castlin at Xavier, where he will be a walk-on for the 2019-2020 season.
(7/3/18 Update: Jaron Faulds has officially transferred to the University of Michigan and will join the team as a preferred walk-on. After sitting out the 2018-2019 season, he will attempt to become a scholarship athlete during his three remaining years of eligibility.)
While Columbia will be without four important players for next year, they will welcome two seniors returning from injury, a junior transfer and three first-years. C.J. Davis missed the entire season with a stress fracture and Jack Killingsworth only appeared in the first two games of last year before an injury ended his junior campaign. Each played in 24 games in 2017-2018 with Killingsworth starting 14 of those contests. The two guards averaged a combined 7.7 points and 3.7 rebounds per game that year. Joseph Smoyer, a 6′ 11″ center from Oregon, will be transferring from the University of Portland. Over his first two years for the Pilots, he played in 23 games with 1.8 points, 1.1 rebounds and 7.6 minutes per game. He will sit out next year and return to game action for his one and only Ivy campaign in 2019-2020. First-years Ike Nweke, Maka Ellis and Ben Milstein will arrive on campus in the fall and be eligible to play for Coach Engles this upcoming season.
Nweke is a 6′ 7″ three-star power forward from Georgetown Prep in Maryland. According to the Columbia press release, Nweke averaged 11 points and 9 rebounds a game his junior year, as he was named first team All-County, and followed that with a senior season where he was chosen the County’s Defensive Player of the Year. Ellis, a 6′ 5″ shooting guard from Sierra Vista High School in Las Vegas, totaled 2,004 points and was named All-State two times in his career. In his junior season, he put up 25.0 points and 8.7 rebounds a game. In his senior year, he recovered from a horrific auto accident in the fall and a minor knee injury early in the schedule, to average 24.0 points, 7.0 rebounds, 3.0 assists and 2.0 steals a game. Milstein, a 5′ 10″ point guard from St. Andrew’s High School in Boca Raton, averaged 10.6 points, 6.3 assists and 2.7 steals a contest. He will be the third member of his family to attend Columbia, with his sister, Adi, a member of the tennis team who graduated this spring, and his brother Oren, a junior placekicker who was first team All-Ivy in 2018-2019.