Five days have passed since last Wednesday’s SIU Basketball Media Day. Multiple players and Barry Hinson met with the media before a 20-minute open practice.
The Salukis return all five of last year’s starters and have confidence they are going into the season with at least 7 starter quality players.
With just a month until the season begins in Lexington, Kentucky on November 9th, here’s our takeaways from media day:
1. Thik Bol will be limited
Last season the Salukis were hopeful up until the final moments that they would be able to bring Thik Bol back from knee surgery and get the dominant rim protector down low again. That never came to be due to complications and the need for another surgery.
Bol continues to have minor issues but has improved over the summer and Barry Hinson expects Bol to come off the bench and continue his shot blocking ways.
“I need everyone to understand that Thik Bol will never be healthy this season. Ever…. I don’t want people to think this kid is going to be the Thik Bol we’ve seen in the past. There may be moments or lapses of it. But this kid has given us everything he’s got”
– Barry Hinson
2. Postseason basketball is the goal
Many were surprised by the announcement of a home-and-away series with the University of Buffalo, who ranked 26th in RPI last year. Before that announcement the Salukis had a chance to play Nevada, who fell to Loyola in the Sweet Sixteen round of the NCAA tournament last season, but nothing was guaranteed.
Plenty of people thought that the non-conference schedule looked great with the announcement of Buffalo but what came a few weeks later raised more than a few eyebrows – a potential #1 team in Kentucky.
Barry Hinson explained that the tough schedule was all about trying to make postseason play.
“The whole goal in the non-conference schedule was to give us the best opportunity to prepare ourselves to win a conference championship, to play in postseason, and, if you’re not fortunate enough to win it outright, to put yourself in position to get an at-large bid. I think we accomplished that.”
3. There is no void left by Tyler Smithpeters’ departure
Tyler Smithpeters filled an important role last season as the sixth man sharpshooter. Occasionally he would also fill in as a starter, like when Armon Fletcher was out in the season opener at Winthrop.
Smithpeters went on to win the Missouri Valley’s Sixth Man of the Year Award. The Harrisburg product averaged 7.7 points, 4.3 rebounds, 2.3 assists, and 1.1 steals throughout the year. Despite a .353 shooting percentage beyond the arc, Smithpeters made several clutch shots to ice multiple games through the season.
One worry fans might have is who will be filling that void. The team as a whole isn’t concerned.
“We got a guy in Eric McGill who is definitely going to come in and have an impact for us. Doesn’t matter if he’s a sixth man or a starter. He can shoot the ball really well, he can attack the basket. His athleticism is uncomparable [sic]. We definitely have a secret weapon.”
4. Sekou Dembele is making Kavion Pippen into a different player
One of the knocks on JUCO transfer center Kavion Pippen last season was that he was too soft in the paint, in a conference that has several physical players down low. The Salukis brought in Mali native Sekou Dembele in September as part of this year’s freshman class and the returns are already showing.
Dembele has been working with Pippen every day and has been making Pippen a more physical player.
“His physicality, hitting me on the court, and just getting me stronger. Just a great defender to go against.”
“He’s the meanest player we’ve had on the floor in a long time. He reminds me of Dearman in the way he plays and how physical he is. He’s not greatly offensive skilled, which reminds me of Dearman, in a lot of ways.”
-Barry Hinson on Dembele
5. The Salukis are healthy
The hardest part about last season was the fact there always seemed to be someone hurt. At one point the Salukis were using only six or seven players a game, requiring players like Sean Lloyd to play 30+ minutes a night.
This year, the Salukis feel good about themselves health-wise. Coach Barry Hinson expects his team to have nine bodies ready to go for the season open, with seven of them being starter quality athletes.
“Right now, we’ve got nine guys that we feel good about. Pretty comfortable with our rotation. You’ve got whomever the five starters are going to be – it doesn’t matter, we’re going to play nine guys, we may play ten. Right now, when you throw in the guys that started last year, the five starters coming back, and then you throw in Thik and Eric and Brendon Gooch – those are eight pretty good players – and Rudy is nine. So that’s our nine rotation, I’m pretty excited about that.
The Salukis begin play with an exhibition match against East Central of Oklahoma on November 1st at SIU Arena. They begin regular season play in Lexington, Kentucky to face the Wildcats.