UK Basketball: Transylvania senior and Lincoln graduate Ethan Spurlin liked challenge of playing Kentucky in Rupp Arena
Transylvania¿s Ethan Spurlin, a Lincoln County graduate, fights for possession with Kentucky¿s Nerlens Noel (3) and Willie Cauley-Stein (15) in the second half of Monday¿s exhibition game. (Clay Jackson / November 6, 2012)
However, he’s been back at Rupp Arena playing for Transylvania in exhibition games against Kentucky in each of the last two years.
In 2011, he helped hold future NBA No. 1 draft pick and Olympic gold medalist Anthony Davis to six points in a game against the eventual NCAA champion Wildcats, and on Monday night he had 11 points and five rebounds in a 74-28 loss to Kentucky and got to go against Nerlens Noel, the nation’s top-ranked recruit in 2012, and another bevvy of talented players.
“It was fun. We came out here and really did what we wanted to in the first half. In the second half, they kind of got away from us because we got fatigued and just lost concentration,” said Spurlin, a 6-foot-4 senior who has 760 career points for Division III Transylvania. “I felt more comfortable this year. I was not as intimidated as I was last year when I had never played against athleticism like that. This year I felt better.
“The goal was to go in, penetrate and kick out (to shooters), but they took away our outside shooters and made it really difficult.”
Spurlin says this year’s Wildcats are a “really good team” again.
“Nerlens Noel and Willie Cauley(-Stein) are really good inside players, and I know they will make a lot of teams struggle. And they can shoot it. They stroked it on us tonight, and that will be good for them in the long haul,” he said. “But I never dreamed I would be in this position. I just enjoyed going out there and competing.
“They are extremely long, Nerlens and Willie, all of them really. I had trouble rebounding. I was jumping up there and couldn’t get anything because of their length. It makes it really difficult when you’re driving and you try to throw it out and they tip it out because of their length.”
Spurlin and Transy went 23-5 and made the NCAA Division III tournament last year, and he was named the Heartland Conference player of the year and a third-team All-American after averaging 16.8 points and 6.4 rebounds per game.
“I think this game definitely helps us,” Spurlin said. “It will give you a confidence booster, even if you score or don’t score. You’re not used to this athleticism. Once you go up against it, you feel like you can do other things on the court against other players.”
Spurlin hopes he has improved his ability to pick his spots to score and control the ball, even though he had eight turnovers while trying to battle Noel and Cauley-Stein on Monday.
“I think I didn’t do a good job this game limiting my turnovers and taking advantage of opportunities I had,’ Spurlin said. “But we have high expectations. We’re really looking forward to the upcoming season. We want to go farther than we did last year. We’re just going to play hard and compete every game.”
Transylvania coach Brian Lane said he knew Spurlin could be a special player from “when I saw him work out for the first time in Lincoln County and ran a couple of stoplights at 5 to get there for early practice.
“I am just glad he does not have to figure a way to score over 6-foot-15 guys every game.”
Spurlin did enjoy when teammate Brandon Rush managed to dunk over Cauley-Stein, a play Lane and the players say they’ll remember forever.
“We really enjoyed it for BR. He doesn’t normally dunk the ball,” Spurlin said. “I don’t know what it is. He doesn’t like to dunk, or I don’t know. We were all shocked, but we know he can do that. He’s that kind of a player. He can go up and get the ball, he can dunk it like he did then.”