The College of Central Florida has had a lot to root for in March the past two years. Former player K.J. Maura was at the center of UMBC’s historic upset of Virginia in 2018. This year, Malik Dunbar has helped lead Auburn to the Final Four.

Head coach Tim Ryan expects new Rhode Island commit Jeremy Sheppard to fit right in with those exports.

“We’ve had some players here,” Ryan said. “And Jeremy is certainly one of them.”

Sheppard verbally committed to the Rams last week after an official visit to Kingston. Immediately eligible with two seasons to play, the 6-foot-1 guard should provide instant help for Jeff Dowtin and Fatts Russell in the URI backcourt. Sheppard averaged 17.1 points per game and shot 44 percent from 3-point range for the Patriots this season.

“He’s a high level player,” Ryan said. “I believe he’s a high-major guard. His skill level is really good. He’s smart. He can score in all different ways. He was the best offensive player we had this year and maybe one of the best guards we’ve had here in a long time. There’s no question, his talent level is going to help them win games. He’s good. He’s really good.”

A three-star recruit out of Richmond, Virginia, Sheppard started his career at East Carolina. His 9.1 points per game and 3.5 assists earned him a spot on the American Athletic Conference’s All-Rookie team in the 2016-17 season. He was suspended for the entirety of the next season for a violation of athletic department policy and was later dismissed from the team.

Back on the court in the junior college ranks this season, he picked up where he left off. His 3-point shooting numbers are a welcome sight for a URI team that struggled beyond the arc for much of the year, and Ryan said the numbers were even better than they look.

“He can really knock it down,” Ryan said. “He’s actually a better shooter than what his percentage was. He went through a stretch at the beginning of the year where he was really struggling from the 3-point line. Sometimes you can’t put a handle on that. But after that stretch at the beginning of the year, he was just on fire.”

Sheppard was 5-for-21 from 3-point range in the first six games of the season. For the rest of the year, he shot 47 percent and made at least three shots from deep in 17 games.

His versatility should also fit well with the Rams. Dowtin and Russell both played on-the-ball and off this past season, and Ryan said Sheppard can do the same.

“He can play both guard spots,” Ryan said. “For us, we were small this year so we went with two point guards. He played more of the two, but he played a lot of one for us. And we wanted the ball in his hands.”

The spot for Sheppard opened with the departure of freshman guard Omar Silverio from URI. One additional scholarship is available for next year after URI also announced that sophomore big man Michael Tertsea is entering the NCAA’s transfer portal.

Sheppard joins Georgetown transfer Antwan Walker as newcomers with college experience under their belts. The incoming freshman class includes forward Marial Mading – who enrolled for the second semester this year and practiced with the team – wing Mekhi Long and guard Gregory Hammond.

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