Men's Basketball

Former hoops reject Eric Stuteville is big man for Sac State

Sacramento State center Eric Stuteville “is on the verge of being really good,” Hornets coach Brian Katz said.
Sacramento State center Eric Stuteville “is on the verge of being really good,” Hornets coach Brian Katz said.

Sacramento State junior center Eric Stuteville comes from a family with strong basketball genes.

His father, Shannon, and mother, Kristine, played collegiately at Langston and Cal, respectively. He had uncles who played at Pacific and Cal Poly.

But growing up, Stuteville was more adept with a trumpet than a basketball.

“I got cut at my middle school and the only reason I made the freshman team in high school is because we didn’t have enough people,” Stuteville said. “In junior high, playing the trumpet took precedence over sports. I was always kind of involved in sports but never good at anything. I was just really a big, bulky, slow kid. No one wanted me on their team.”

For someone late to the basketball party, the 6-foot-11 Stuteville is making up for lost time. And Sac State coach Brian Katz certainly appreciates having him in his ever-improving program.

I feel like I’m coming into my own. But even to this day, I’m still figuring out things. There’s always more things to learn. There’s always room for improvement.

Eric Stuteville, Sacramento State center

“He’s a throwback kid, and the proverbial late bloomer,” Katz said. “He’s someone we feel who is on the verge of being really good.”

Stuteville is a two-year starter for the Hornets who appears ready to shed his role-player ways.

He has a sturdy 245-pound frame. He moves well for his size and is becoming a bully around the basket, which he showed in the Hornets’ 70-60 loss at Stanford on Dec. 21. Stuteville scored a career-high 19 points on 8-of-13 shooting, had five rebounds and two blocks and helped keep the Hornets in the game until he fouled out with 5:08 to play. The Cardinal closed with a 14-4 run.

“I feel like I’m coming into my own,” Stuteville said. “But even to this day, I’m still figuring out things. There’s always more things to learn. There’s always room for improvement.”

Stuteville contributed as a freshman, averaging 5.7 points and 3.3 rebounds. He started 31 of 33 games during last season’s historic Division I breakthrough campaign and averaged 7.1 points and 3.6 rebounds.

This season he is averaging 9.5 points and 4.4 rebounds. His 59.7 percent field-goal percentage is the third best among Big Sky Conference players, and he ranks No. 2 in the conference in blocked shots with 19.

Katz thinks Stuteville would be even more formidable for the 6-4 Hornets if he could stay on the floor longer. The Hornets, who host Pacific Union on Monday night at The Nest in their final nonconference game, have struggled throughout the season on the backboards partly because Stuteville spends nearly half the game on the bench.

“We need him to stay out of foul trouble,” Katz said. “Right now he’s averaging about 20 minutes. We’d like him to be playing at least 32 minutes.”

Eric’s brother Mason, a 6-11 sophomore reserve forward, marvels at how much his brother has improved since their days of playing 2-on-1 and getting pushed around by their dad in the driveway.

“He has a ceiling that he hasn’t come close to reaching,” Mason said. “He’s just now coming into his own.”

Eric credits Mason, well-known area trainer Guss Armstead and a huge growth spurt for helping to awaken the sleeping giant in him.

It was Mason who first played travel-league basketball in middle school and initially built the higher recruiting profile. But as Mason grew, so did Eric. He was 6-2 as a freshman and 6-10 by his senior year at Casa Roble High School. Armstead helped turn Eric’s baby fat into muscle while developing his agility and building his endurance.

The brothers began playing AAU ball together and brought Casa Roble to new heights. As a senior and junior, respectively, Eric and Mason teamed to lead the Rams to a 23-win season and a Sac-Joaquin Section Division III semifinal appearance, one of the best boys basketball finishes in the Orangevale school’s history.

“It was a lot of fun to be a part of because we had a lot of our best friends on the team,” Eric said. “We may not have had the most talented team, but we had good chemistry.”

Eric was the league co-MVP and averaged 21.7 points and 12.3 rebounds and shot better than 60 percent. He also set school game and single-season shot-blocking records and had a career-high 41 points in a 70-65 overtime win against league rival Del Campo.

Those who once told Eric he would never amount to much as a basketball player were replaced by those who encouraged, mentored and helped train him.

“You could see the potential,” Katz said. “You could see the want-to, the attitude, the hustle, the toughness and the shooting touch. Then I found out about the background. The dad played, the mom played, and Andy Franklin was his uncle. That’s the bloodline? Andy Franklin was a monster for Pacific. He was strong like an Adonis.”

59.7 Eric Stuteville’s field-goal percentage this season

Katz landed an early commitment from Eric, who stayed true to the Hornets even when a couple of other schools made late offers. Katz got a double bonus when recruiting interest from several Pacific-12 Conference schools fell off for Mason, and he decided to follow his brother to the J Street campus.

It was a huge coup for Katz, the 2015 national Mid-Major Coach of the Year after recording the program’s best D-I season (21-12) and first postseason victory in 53 years. Not only did he land two players with major-program size willing to stay local whom he’d have for four years, they were from his Casa Roble alma mater.

“It was like recruiting somebody right out of your own neighborhood,” Katz said. “There was a real buzz about it, too. You could feel that coaches, people in that area wanted to see it happen just because of the connection.

“To go back into that old gym, wow! It was surreal. Bigs are hard to find, and you get local kids who want to be here. It was like hitting the lottery.”

Bill Paterson: 916-326-5506, @SacBee_BillP