As a player, second-year Eastern Washington head coach Shantay Legans often locked up with the nation’s premier basketball institutions.
The former California point guard pushed through Pac-10 and nonconference gantlets in the early 2000s, reaching the NCAA Tournament twice before transferring to Fresno State.
Legans has never crossed paths with longtime power Syracuse, though.
That changes Tuesday at 4 p.m. PST when the Eagles face Jim Boeheim’s 16th-ranked Orange in the season opener for both teams at Syracuse’s 33,000-seat Carrier Dome.
EWU, picked fourth in the Big Sky Conference preseason media and coaches polls, travels to 14th-ranked Oregon on Friday, the second game in a brawny nonconference slate that also includes road dates against No. 25 Washington and Stanford and a visit to Cheney by Summit League favorite South Dakota State.
Legans, whose Eagles finished 20-15 last season and fell a game short of reaching the NCAA Tournament, welcomes the challenge.
“Those games are fun to play,” Legans said. “I’ve never played in the Carrier Dome, and I don’t think any of our players have. We get to go a place like that and have an opportunity to play against the best.”
“When you play teams like Syracuse, Washington, Stanford – or Gonzaga if we ever get a chance to play them – that’s a lot of fun. These are the things the guys don’t forget. A couple years back we won at Indiana, last year we beat Stanford, so it’s a lot of fun to play in these games.”
The Eagles return six of their top seven scorers from last season, but lost EWU and the Big Sky Conference’s all-time leading scorer, Bogdan Bliznyuk, to graduation. None of the returners averaged double figures in scoring.
EWU will look to returning guards Cody Benzel, Ty Gibson, Jack Perry, Luka Vulikic and BYU transfer Steven Beo tonight against a very long, athletic and deep Syracuse team that reached the Sweet 16 last season.
All-Big Sky honorable mention post Mason Peatling and versatile guard Jacob Davidson have recently worn protective boots for apparent lower-leg injuries. Legans said the Eagles were battling early injuries – he didn’t specify players – and expects everyone to be healthy by the start of Big Sky Conference play in late December.
Boeheim’s squad isn’t 100 percent, either.
Injuries to Syracuse’s three point guards, starter Frank Howard and backups Howard Washington and Jalen Carey, forced Boeheim to use 6-foot-6 shooting guard Tyus Battle, an NBA prospect, at the point in the team’s exhibition games against NCAA Division II programs College of St. Rose and Le Moyne, both lopsided Orange wins.
“We won’t know anything until probably right about game time,” Boeheim said. “At least now we’ve had two games … with Tyus handling the ball and doing stuff. That’s good for us. We’ll see who’s ready.”
Notes: This is the first time Eastern Washington’s men’s basketball team has ever faced Syracuse. … The Eagles are 1-24 all-time against teams ranked in the AP Top 25, the only win a 68-67 upset of No. 10 St. Joe’s in 2001.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
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