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FIU adds two men’s basketball recruits, plus preseason football honors

Men’s basketball coach Jeremy Ballard has added a pair of 6-9 forwards to FIU’s roster: Okechukwu Okeke and Jonathan Aybar.

Okeke is a junior-college transfer from Tallahassee Community College, which won 20 straight games last season and finished 31-6. Okeke finished fourth in his conference in blocks (1.7).

He also averaged 8.9 points and 5.6 rebounds. Okeke is ranked the nation’s 15th-best junior-college recruit.

“Okeke is a big-time athlete who can run and jump at a high level,” Ballard said when reached by The Herald on Tuesday night. “(Okeke) is a great fit for what we do’ because of his high motor and his potential to expand his game beyond being a lob threat at the rim and an interior defender and rebounder.”

Aybar is a Division I transfer from North Florida, where he averaged 8.3 points and 3.3 rebounds last season. He shot 54.8 percent from the floor and 34.5 percent on 3-pointers. Aybar’s career-best performance came on Jan. 2 against Stetson: 26 points and 10 rebounds.

His father, Ramon Aybar, was a member of FIU’s men’s basketball program from 1996 to 1999.

“Jonathan is a legacy kid whose father was a teammate of (ex-FIU star) Carlos Arroyo,” Ballard said. “Jonathan should allow us to play two bigs at the same time due to his versatility. He can score with his back to the basket, in the mid-range and from 3-point range.”

THIS AND THAT

Athlon magazine’s Conference USA preseason all-league squad includes one FIU player on the first-team: linebacker Donovan Manuel.

Four FIU players made the second team: tight end Josiah Miamen; defensive lineman Jordan Guerad; linebacker Shaun Peterson Jr.; and punter Daton Montiel.

FIU wide receiver Kris Mitchell made the third team. Four FIU players made the fourth team: kicker Chase Gabriel; center John Bock II; defensive lineman Jeremy Passmore; and linebacker Avery Huff.

Barry University’s baseball team (35-19) finished a breakthrough season by reaching the NCAA Division II super regionals. Barry, though, got swept in two games by Rollins, which finished third in the nation in 2022.

Rollins beat Barry 7-4 and 7-1. In fact, Rollins went 5-0 against Barry this season.

“They have a great team,” Barry coach Juan Ranero said of Rollins. “They have 15 seniors, many of them key players who made it to the College World Series last year.”

Barry, meanwhile, had a young team with 21 newcomers on its 2023 roster.

“We changed the culture of Barry baseball this year,” Ranero said, “and we gained valuable experience going forward.”

Like Barry baseball, NSU’s softball team finished a great season. NSU (43-16) reached the College World Series for the first time in program history, losing 5-1 to second-ranked Central Oklahoma and 2-1 to fifth-ranked East Stroudsburg. Including regionals and super regionals, NSU played its final eight games against top-10 teams, going 5-3.

NSU sophomore track standout Kamila Soja earned second-team All-American honors by finishing ninth in the national championships for the 10,000-meters race. Soja, a former walk-on, is the first distance runner in NSU history to earn All-American status.

Nosomy Pozo, a Southwest High graduate, is the new wrestling coach at St. Thomas University. As a wrestler, Pozo won four national championships, split evenly between the junior college and NAIA levels.