By Chris Whitaker
The Americus Times-Recorder
AMERICUS — Georgia Southwestern made the NCAA Tournament for the first time in school history this season, and the Hurricanes did it in large part with defense.
GSW was third in the Peach Belt in scoring defense and second in field-goal percentage defense. But the Hurricanes were eighth in rebounding.
Mike Leeder believes he's found a source to improve the defense even more and raise the rebounding numbers. Leeder signed Milos Kleut, a 6-foot-10 center from Lipscomb University.
Kleut, an incoming junior, played sparingly in his two years in the Atlantic Sun Conference. He will join former teammate Matt Shaw, who Kleut lived with his final two years of high school, playing at North Cobb Christian.
"I think it's a chance for him to play," said Leeder. "He backed up Adnan Hodzic who scored 19 points a game. I think he's just ready to go on his own and have a chance to have a little more of an impact."
Kleut played in 25 games this season, averaging 1.2 points and 1.4 rebounds while shooting 58 percent from the floor.
He is the tallest player Leeder will have coached.
"He's around 225 (pounds) right now, so he's gained 20 pounds since he got up there," said Leeder. "He can really run the floor. He's a good athlete. I think with the way we play, he will fit in with what we want to do.
"I think the thing Milos does a great job with, he's a great help defender, and he knows how to use his size without leaving his feet. He uses his position and size to alter shots and have the opportunities to block them. He's a tremendous pick-up for us."
GSW graduated swingman Trayce Macon, who could play inside and on the perimeter. With Kleut, Leeder said he and Phillip Brown can become a formidable duo in the PBC, and it can open up things for Shaw.
"He will be the second-tallest player in the league," said Leeder. "It should help us rebounding the ball. We've got another guy with size and length who has a passion for rebounding. He's polished with his back to the basket, and he allows us to upgrade in talent, but in a different way from Trayce. We're not necessarily replacing his skill set, but picking up a guy we didn't have last year. It's a comparable tradeoff. We'll be a much bigger team.
"Matt can now assume the role of Trayce and play inside and out. Matt was doing some great things in November and December before he got hurt. As good as we were offensively, I hope (Kleut's) size will allow us to be a little more aggressive on the perimeter knowing we have a legitimate guy who can block or alter shots in there."
Kleut was a member of the Atlantic Sun Conference's All-Academic Team.
GSW won the Western Division for the first time this season, as well as 20 games for the first time. The Hurricanes lost to UNC Pembroke in the conference semis and then to Montevallo in the first round of the NCAA Tournament.
Photos by Anthony Estes/Lipscomb Athletics