Augusta State's most promising men's basketball player is leaving school after one season.
Cameron Tovey, the reigning Peach Belt Conference Freshman of the Year, signed a professional contract last week with the Australian Basketball League's Perth Wildcats.
Tovey, who will turn 20 later this month, joins former Jaguars Gary Boodnikoff, Kavossy Franklin and Russell Hinder in the ABL, the Australian equivalent of the NBA. The upcoming season begins Sept. 2.
"It's too good of an opportunity for him to pass up," Augusta State coach Dip Metress said. "It's a big blow, but we'll survive."
A 6-foot-7, 180-pound forward, Tovey grew up in Perth, Australia, and returned to his hometown after the Peach Belt Conference Tournament ended in March. After scorching the nets during a summer league tournament, Tovey was offered a one-year contract by the Wildcats. He contacted Metress and told him of his decision.
"I think this is the first time in the Peach Belt a guy signed a pro contract with eligibility left," Metress said. "I think this is a unique case.
"I think he'll have a chance to play early. Hopefully, he'll go in there and prove he's a capable player."
Tovey helped lead the Jaguars to a winning season after a sub-.500 effort a year earlier. Augusta State went 19-11 with victories over three top-20 teams this past season.
In 30 games, Tovey led the team in rebounding (7.4) and finished second to point guard Karim Telfer in scoring (12.0). Tovey scored a career-high 22 points in the team's regular-season finale, a win over Francis Marion.
"He was a great rebounder for his size," Metress said. "And he was our primary ball-handler late in games.
"He was a no-issue guy. And that's hard to come by."
Tovey's departure leaves the Jaguars with just three of their top five scorers returning next season.
Metress said the timing of Tovey's decision doesn't mean much. He said replacing Tovey will be difficult because of his athleticism. Finding a player who can rebound and score inside and outside the paint, Metress said, is difficult any time of the year.
Metress said he now has to alter his recruiting plans. He thought he'd have a light summer, but now will try to find two players to fill Tovey's void.
"Hopefully, we'll get past it," Metress said. "I'm very happy for him. It's just a tough situation for us."
Reach Chris Gay at (706) 823-3645 or firstname.lastname@example.org.