SIU basketball teams get early jump on competitive season
Before the real basketball season heats up, the Southern Illinois University men have been hitting the court, warming up for what promises to be a tough but exciting season.
SIU has a number of returning players, including Armon Fletcher, Thik Bol and Sean Lloyd.
Fletcher was a key player on the Salukis' offense last year as a sophomore, averaging 11 points per game and dropping 47 3-pointers during the year. The Salukis defense will likely be anchored by Bol, who finished last season with 76 blocked shots and was named to the Missouri Valley Conference All-Defensive team.
In a press release, head coach Barry Hinson said he has been happy with what he's seen from several players this summer.
“I'm really impressed with Brendon Gooch and his improvement,” Hinson said. “Jonathan Wiley has made himself a really good offensive threat shooting the ball on the perimeter.”
Gooch was a red-shirt freshman last year. He came to SIU after a strong high school basketball career in which he helped Althoff Catholic High School in Belleville win the 3A championship. Gooch averaged 13 points per game and could help boost the Salukis' offense.
Although SIU lost three seniors from last year's team, including Sean O’Brien and top-scorer Mike Rodriguez, Hinson hopes the team will build off of last year’s 17-16 record.
“We start every practice with, ‘Let's go win a championship,’” he said, according to the press release. “I think every team in the Valley is saying that because all 10 teams think they can go win a championship with Wichita State being out. We approach every day like that, and I do think we have some more maturity than we've had in quite some time.”
The Salukis will have an added dose of seniority from Tyler Smithpeters, a fifth-year senior. Hinson said Smithpeters has put on some muscle and is coming into the year healthy after missing all but one game last season after he injured his knee in SIU’s first game. In 2015, he was one of the best offensive weapons for the Salukis and led the team in 3-point shooting average.
Hinson said he expects this year to be tough, at least in part because of the Salukis' game on Nov. 21, when they take on NCAA powerhouse Louisville in a trip to Kentucky.
SIU should have some of its mettle tested before then, including an opening day, Nov. 4, game against Rockhurst University.
“I think you're getting ready to witness one of the best Missouri Valley Conference races in quite a few years,” Hnson said, according to the press release. “There will be nobody that's going to run away with this conference. Every game is going to matter.”