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Chad LaCross has built University of St. Francis into a formidable basketball program over the past three years; and with a pair of Columbus recruits coming in, he hopes to take the Cougars to the next level.

Columbus North point guard Evan Henry and Columbus East forward-center Bryce Lienhoop committed to the Fort Wayne school within two days of each other last month and signed national letters-of-intent to play for LaCross beginning next season.

“We feel like between Evan and Bryce, we have the No. 1 and 2 guys as far as those positions that we needed to fill,” LaCross said. “We’re very excited and extremely happy.”

LaCross was in town last week for Lienhoop’s signing ceremony in the East High School commons. He also attended Henry’s signing at North.

St. Francis won the Mid-Central College Conference title in 2011 — Lacross’ first as head coach — and advanced to the NAIA Division II championship in 2011 and 2012. The Cougars went 18-13 last season and were 8-3 this year going into Tuesday night’s game against Taylor.

St. Francis has only one senior starter, All-American forward Scott Kohne, and LaCross thinks the 6-foot-6 Lienhoop can step in and replace him.

“I think we’re getting a great player,” LaCross said. “We like our guys that are able to face the basket and play on the perimeter a little bit and in the post. We feel like he’s versatile enough to where he can do both. That’s what excites us about him.

“He has a knack for the ball and knows how to score,” he said. “He’s a great rebounder, but he’s able to score in many different ways, too. Our post players the past few years have kind of been that way, and we feel like Bryce has the ability to come in and play right away and help us out and make an impact on our team.”

Lienhoop led the Olympians with 14.4 points, 10.4 rebounds and 1.7 steals a game and finished second on the team with 3.0 assists last season, when East went 14-7. He ranks 14th in school history with 743 points, fifth with 493 rebounds and 16th with 189 assists and also has 118 blocked shots.

“I think he’s the all-around best player we’ve had in my four years here,” East coach Brent Chitty said. “He does so many things for his teammates. He can score. He can pass. He’s been quite a player for us.”

Lienhoop, who might major in sports administration or something in the business field, has big aspirations for his college years.

“I feel like we have a good chance to compete for maybe a national championship,” Leinhoop said.

But first, he’s focused on having a big senior season.

“(Signing) feels good,” Lienhoop said. “It’s kind of like a weight off your shoulders. I’m still not going to overlook this season here at East.”

The Lienhoop file

Name: Bryce Lienhoop

School: Columbus East

Grade: Senior

Height: 6-foot-6

Position: Forward-center

Key stats: 14.4 ppg, 10.4 rpg, 3.0 apg, 1.7 spg as a junior in 2012-13

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