Nov. 5, 2010
You might say the 2010-2011 SIUE men's basketball team is taking things one step at a time. Head Coach Lennox Forrester would say it another way: "Day-to-day."
"We're going to get better every day," he said. "It starts with practice, and then obviously games. We'll keep getting better every game."
Getting better every day will be no small task thanks to the schedule assembled by Forrester and his staff. The 29-game regular season slate features 11 games against teams that participated in the post-season last year, including a pair of NCAA teams. The schedule also includes five games against teams that finished the year in the top 100 in the RPI.
IPFW comes to the Vadalabene Center Nov. 12 to open the season. "It's another challenging schedule for our players," Forrester said. "It gives our guys the chance to play in some good environments against good competition. We've got some teams that are really going to challenge (the players) athletically and mentally."
The Cougars will face three Big 10 schools over the course of the season, beginning with a game at Iowa Nov. 26. They will travel to Indiana to take on the Hoosiers Dec. 17 in the first game of the Las Vegas Classic. SIUE travels to Evanston, Ill., to meet Northwestern Jan. 24.
Forrester also believes the schedule, and the notoriety it will bring, is good for the program and the University.
"It will show that our program is taking the right steps as far as being competitive at the Division I level," he said. "When you look at the fact that we'll be on TV in the OVC and, from a national standpoint, on the Big 10 network, I think it is definitely going to give us some exposure as we move forward."
SIUE will play nine games against Ohio Valley Conference schools, including six home contests. The Cougars play home-and-home series with OVC opponents Eastern Kentucky, Murray State and Tennessee Tech. UT Martin, Morehead State and Southeast Missouri all play games at the Vadalabene Center this year. "I like it that we have several OVC schools coming to the VC," Forrester said. "It gives our fans a chance to be educated, to see how the competition will be when we're in the conference."
"We will miss Stephen, Amir and Denykco," he said. These are guys that have been around the program. The games they have started, the minutes they have played, will be missed." But Forrester believes in the group he has.
"The group as a whole is better athletically, fundamentally and also skill-wise," he added.
The 2010-2011 version of the Cougars is a junior-laden group, with half of the players being juniors. Only four of those juniors are returners for the Cougars. The group returns four seniors, with only Nikola Bundalo having played in the program for four years. The Cougars have two sophomores and two freshmen.
Gerald Jones, from McCluer South-Berkley High School, and Michael Messer, from Lafayette High School, are the lone freshmen for Forrester. Jones is a 6-1 guard from St. Louis. Forrester believes Jones has work to do but is developing.
"Right now he doesn't really understand how hard he needs to work yet, Forrester said. "I can see that he is getting better as we keep going. He is going to be an exciting player to watch."
The staff also believes Jones brings something that most guards don't: rebounding ability.
"One of his biggest assets is his ability to rebound the ball at both ends," Forrester said of Jones. "We like our point guards to be the ones getting back on defense when the shot goes up, but there are times when we're going to allow him to go to the boards."
"He has a great knack for rebounding the basketball," Forrester continued. "We sure don't want to take that part away from him."
Forrester believes Messer, a 6-5 guard from Wildwood, Mo., is already in good position to have success at SIUE.
"He understands the game and he understands what we're looking for," Forrester said. "He has a very good foundation. He will be successful in the four years that he is here."
"He shoots the ball well enough to make you guard him," Forrester added. "He also can put the ball on the floor and finish strong around the basket." LeShaun Murphy, a 6-1 guard and Zeke Schneider, a 6-9 center, are the only two sophomores on the roster.
"I look for LeShaun to give us a lot more than he did last year," Forrester said. "He's improved physically and mentally. He's explosive offensively for us and he's going to be better defending."
Forrester is pleased with Schneider's progress as well.
"He's a hard worker in practice," he said. "He's got to give us a little more interior rebounding, blocking shots and scoring around the basket. He's coming along."
Half of the junior class may be starting when the season opens for the Cougars. Led by co-captains Mark Yelovich and David Boarden, the junior class is the deepest and arguably most talented group on the roster.
Yelovich, the leading scorer over the past two seasons, is on pace to join the 1,000-point club for the Cougars by mid-season. Already 23rd on the school's career scoring list, the 6-6 forward begins the year with 804 points in just two seasons in a Cougar uniform. Last year he led the team with an average of 16.7 points a game and 5.9 rebounds per game.
Forrester said Yelovich shows no signs of slowing down. "Mark just continues to be one of our hardest workers," Forrester said." He's gotten better every single day he's been here."
"He's a complete basketball player," Forrester continued. "He can shoot it from outside, he can post up, and he can offensive rebound and defensive rebound." Forrester also believes that Yelovich may have more success because of the team around him.
"He now realizes that he doesn't have to do as much as he has for us to be successful," Forrester said. "He's learning to have trust and confidence in the other guys. You can see that he feels like he doesn't have to do everything." Forrester believes Boarden is succeeding in his role as a team captain. "So far he has done a good job of being a leader, both by example and vocally," Forrester said. "He's trying to help guys along as we go."
The Cougars' Head Coach also believes Boarden's game is changing.
"I think he is doing a better job as far as doing more than just shoot," Forrester. "He'll make the extra pass to a guy that has a better shot than he has." Two junior transfers from Wabash Community College are both figured to play prominent roles for the team this season.
Forrester described Chatt as a versatile player that will help others on the floor improve.
"He's able to make guys around him better by being a good passer," he said. "He's very crafty and he is a good scorer."
Forrester also believes Chatt to be a threat from the outside. "He's going to be one of the better 3-point shooters on the team," he said. "He's not just a spot-up shooter, but more of a guy who can come off screens, catch the ball and shoot it. He's definitely going to be a playmaker for us."
Forrester expects Wickware to man the point guard position.
"He'll add another dimension," Forrester said of Wickware. "He's a very good passer and is very good in the open floor."
Forrester also believes in Wickware as a defender.
"He has a big heart, despite a small stature," Forrester continued. "He's quick and he can guard you."
Kevin Stineman will also challenge for time at the guard spot. The 6-0 guard is returning for his third year in the program and has appeared in all 58 games in his Cougar career, a fact that will benefit Stineman, according to Forrester.
"He's coming in with a lot of experience," he said "Two years under his belt--two years in our system-- will help."
Forrester hopes Stineman will play within himself.
"He has to do a better job of knowing his role," he said. "He has to be a solid point guard for us. We're not asking him to do the same things Corey can do because he's not that kind of player."
One player whose role may change is Anthony Mitchell, a 6-4 guard/forward. The junior played 19 games last year, missing some time due to knee injuries. "He is healthier than he has been at any time since he has been here," Forrester said of Mitchell.
Forrester said Mitchell's role this season could be reminiscent of that of a former Cougar.
"I kind of see him in the same role as Denykco (Bowles) last year," Forrester said. "He's going to be a guy that this year may have to play more inside for us because of his strength, athleticism and toughness."
Another transfer that will help the Cougars is 6-7 forward Abel Tillman from St. Louis.
Tillman is a versatile, athletic player and may also provide the Cougars with an inside presence.
"He's a guy who brings rebounding, blocked shots and athleticism," Forrester said. "He'll play the five for us some, even though I think he is more of a four. Because we need him inside, that's a role he'll take on."
Walk-on Reggie Reed rounds out the deep junior class. A transfer from Rend Lake Community College, Forrester said the 5-9 guard knows where he stands. "He understands his role to the fullest," Forrester said. "He's had two years of junior college basketball. He understands what it takes to compete at a higher level than high school."
Starting center Nikola Bundalo headlines the senior class for Coach Forrester. Bundalo, who has played his entire career at SIUE, is the first player to play four seasons for the Cougar Head Coach.
Last season the 6-10 Bundalo was third on the team with 6.1 points per contest. He has led the team in field goal percentage for three consecutive seasons and is currently sixth on the career list with a .608 shooting percentage during his time in a Cougar uniform.
"He has a very high shooting percentage inside," Forrester said. "We have to find ways to get him the ball inside even more. We have to get him more touches so he can be a threat down there."
"We definitely will be looking for him more," Forrester continued. "But he has to do his part by getting open so we can pass him the basketball."
Fellow center Dobrivoje Mavrak is in his second season with the Cougars, after transferring to SIUE before last season. Forrester would like to see the 6-9 Mavrak add to his repertoire on the floor.
"What I'd like to add with Dob is the ability to step out and shoot a 15-footer," Forrester said. "He's been good at that, and that will open up the floor." Cody Rincker and Alex Newlin, both walk-ons, are the final pieces of the Cougars' roster.
Rincker, who joined the team last season, was much more than a practice player for the Cougars. The 6-1 guard appeared in all but one of the Cougars' contests and made three starts. He finished sixth on the team with an average of 4.5 points per game. He led the team in three-point field goal percentage, shooting .353 from outside the arc. His 36 three-pointers made were second to Yelovich.
Forrester knows Rincker is willing and able to perform and handle whatever the team needs from him.
"He just wants to win," Forrester said. "Whatever role we have for him is the role he's going to play. It will be hard to keep him off the floor because of his leadership and work ethic."
Newlin appeared in seven games last year for the Cougars. Forrester said the 6-5 forward may surprise people.
"He just gives it all at practice," he said. "Who knows, down the road he may end up playing more minutes than I expect in certain games."
Overall, Forrester believes his team will be more balanced.
"Balance is exactly the right term to use," Forrester said. "The team is very unselfish and they're gelling together," he said. "Guys are making plays for the team and not just for themselves."
The Cougars will host an exhibition Sat., Nov. 7, against Webster University before the Nov. 12 opener.