The Owls’ rebuild under first-year coach Dusty May is accelerating much faster than expected. It helps that Lepichev is no stranger to picking up the pace.
A Bulgarian native who played his high school ball in France, Lepichev arrived to FAU last season after two years in JUCO, but played sparingly.
The 6-foot-9, 225-pound Lepichev said his foot speed was one of the reasons why.
“Coming in from France I used to shoot a lot. And I used to be very slow,” Lepichev said with a slight chuckle. “I used to be extremely slow on the court because I thought I could just shoot threes and stretch out the other guys. And I’ve realized that it’s not enough anymore. Yeah, the shooting is good, it’s a plus, but at this level you need to be able to play defense, you need to be able to run. You need to be able to stop people.”
That he has.
While Lepichev’s box score numbers aren’t gaudy – owning averages of 5.2 points and 5.7 boards on the season – his ability to step out and defend the perimeter has been critical to FAU’s quick turnaround.
In a college game becoming more enamored with the three-ball by the day, FAU is holding opponents to 30.8 percent from deep, second best in Conference USA. Having a 6-foot-9 defender in Lepichev close the space and get a hand up on many of those attempts is certainly helping the cause.
“It allows us to change up our coverages. It allows us to switch with bigs and guards on ball screens, which typically makes the offense a little more stagnant,” May said of Lepichev’s willingness to guard the perimeter. “There’s been several games where they’ve tried to go at him one-on-one and he’s held his own against some of the better players in the league. So, we’re very confident when Sim switches onto a guard or big, he can defend at a high level.”
Lepichev welcomes the challenge.
“It’s given us more options and it’s giving the coaches more trust in me that when we’re playing defense against fast guards and they set a screen, I can go and guard those guys out so that we’re not at a disadvantage,” he said.
Neck pillows will be packed and playlists set extra long by players on the FAU basketball team, as they will be on the bus a lot more than usual this week. After heading up to Huntington, W. Va., to play Marshall on Thursday, the Owls stay on the road to take on Western Kentucky two days following.
While the Owls will fly to West Virginia and fly home from Kentucky, they will travel the nearly 500 miles from Morgantown to Bowling Green via a bus.
“It’ll be mentally challenging, physically challenging, but it’ll be a good learning experience for our young guys,” May said of his team’s first extended road stretch of the season.
FAU is up for a big challenge against Western Kentucky on Saturday – literally and figuratively. Hilltoppers center Charles Bassey is having a dominant freshman season, averaging 14.7 points, 8.9 rebounds and a whopping 2.4 blocks per game. May said he’s focused most of his scouting efforts on Marshall thus far since that’s the next team on the schedule, but admitted Bassey popped off the screen of the limited tape he’s seen of the Nigeria native. “He’s a physical specimen. He changes the game down low. He blocks shots, he rebounds. He’s able to score, and you have to gameplan for him,” May said. “In a lot of times at this level you don’t have to gameplan for the other team’s centers, it’s usually guards. Where with him, you have to gameplan to stop him.”