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Hobbie collects postseason accolades; staying put at McKendree

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By Seth Whitehead

The rumors have been flying. Eric Hobbie's cell phone has been ringing non-stop.

And even those closest to the former VCHS hoops standout have succumb to the gossip mill's deceiving charms.

"(Former Vandal teammate) Derek Wright called me the other day and said, 'What the heck? Why are you transferring?'" said Hobbie. "I said, 'I didn't know I was transferring.'"

The speculation is the direct byproduct of Hobbie's wildly successful freshman season at McKendree University. And it's been running wild.

There's a good chance you've heard that Hobbie's headed to SIU-Carbondale, a program that might have offered him a scholarship a year ago had it had one to give. Or you might have heard he's going just down the road to SIU-Edwardsville.

There was even a rumor circulating that Hobbie could be donning the orange and blue of the University of Illinois Fighting Illini. Yes, the University of Illinois.

But, for the record, Hobbie isn't going anywhere - something he wants to make abundantly clear.

"I've gotten all kinds of calls asking about it (rumors of him transferring)," said Hobbie. "But none of that's true. I'm extremely happy with where I'm at."

Hobbie made sure to emphasize the words "extremely" and "happy" when summing up his situation. And for good reason - he couldn't have asked for a better first season at McKendree.

The high-flying, 6-foot-6 forward made a huge splash in Lebanon during his first collegiate season, quickly earning a starting role in the Bearcats' lineup.

He went on to help McKendree to a sparkling 27-7 record, including an American Midwest Conference championship and a run to the second round of the NAIA National Tournament.

And none of his new team's success surprised Hobbie.

"It was what I expected," said Hobbie. "I came and practiced with them my senior year, and I knew who was returning. Along with the freshmen coming in, I knew it'd be a great year."

But, as well as the Bearcats performed a team, it could be argued that Hobbie had as good a season individually.

He was the runaway selection for AMC Freshman of the Year after leading the Bearcats in rebounding (7.8 per game) and finishing second on the team in scoring (15.2 points per game). And his performance at the national tournament - in which he averaged 18.5 points and 10.5 rebounds in two games - helped him garner an All-American honorable mention.

"It is a wonderful honor for a freshman," said longtime McKendree coach Harry Statham. "And he is very deserving."

When asked if he was surprised at his instant success at the college level, Hobbie responded in his well-documented modest fashion.

"I didn't exactly know how good I was going to do," Hobbie said. "I just wanted to go out and do my best, work my hardest and go out and help the team as much as I could."

But he admits it was a big adjustment going from the high school game to the college game.

"It was a lot different," Hobbie said. "(It's) a lot faster pace and a lot more physical than high school, when I was the biggest guy on the court most every game. Now I'm not nearly the biggest guy on the court every game."

Still, you'd never guess it by looking at Hobbie's stats.

He hit 49 percent from the field and 76 percent from the free-throw line, in addition to leading the team with 49 blocks and dazzling crowds with You Tube-worthy dunks.

His final numbers favor comparably with the ones he posted as a freshman at VCHS, when he averaged 10.9 ppg, 6.9 rpg and hit 54 percent from the floor, and they project to a potential record-breaking career at McKendree.

Bearcats all-time leading scorer Matt Lauer (2,874 points) scored just 57 more points than Hobbie did his freshman year.

But Hobbie's quick success has also left some wondering the jump to Division I is eminent.

But, Hobbie makes sure to reiterate once again that he is "extremely happy" with his decision to play at McKendree.

His reasons for falling in love with McKendree are numerous.

First in foremost, the program is in tremendous shape.

Much of this past year's squad will be back next season - including All-American Eric Palm - and will add high-profile recruit Sean Rakers of Trenton Wesclin next year.

"We had a great year, and we're returning four of five starters and we're adding Sean Rakers, so we should be really good the next few years," Hobbie said.

And, as stacked as the Bearcats are in the talent department, Hobbie says their chemistry is even better.

"Everybody on the team became best friends," Hobbie said. "We had no problems. Coach always says he wants to recruit good kids, and it shows on the court and off the court."

It helps that the legendary Statham - who has 965 career wins - is at the helm.

"It's great," said Hobbie of playing for the all-time wins leader at the four-year college level. "Everywhere we go, people know him. He's a great coach and great guy with a great personality. It's just been fun."

Throw in small class sizes and the fact that McKendree is a little more than an hour's drive from Vandalia, and Hobbie couldn't be happier.

His future goal - despite everything you might have heard - is to help McKendree continue the success it experienced in 2007-08.

"I just want to win conference and get back to nationals," Hobbie said. "That's mainly what I was looking at. I think we can do it as long as everybody keeps their heads right and works hard."