CARBONDALE — SIU men's basketball team will play three games in Cuba in August and host two youth coaching clinics, the Salukis announced Wednesday.
Coach Barry Hinson said in March that he intended to take his team on its first foreign trip in 10 years this summer. SIU will play three games between Aug. 5-11 against players currently on the Cuban national team and younger players attempting to make it. The Salukis will also get 10 extra days of practice with their 2018-19 squad, per NCAA rules, before leaving on their trip.
The tour was booked through Sports Tours International, which has guided Coastal Carolina and Louisiana-Lafayette on previous summer trips to Cuba. Louisiana-Lafayette, which went 27-7 and played in the NIT, actually lost two of the three games it played last August against the Cuban national team. SIU will be accompanied by three interpreters, including Sports Tours president Lee Frederick, and visit the cities of Havana and Varadero.
The games will be played in the 12,000-seat Havana Sports City Coliseum. SIU's coaches and players will also conduct two teaching clinics for Cuban youth players.
"This trip provides student-athletes with an extremely rich experience," Frederick said in a statement. "In addition to the basketball games, players will take a walking tour of historic Old Havana and make several excursions, such as visiting the U.S. Embassy, a craft market and cigar store, and taking a salsa lesson from professional Cuban dancers."
The Salukis could return up to seven seniors and all five starters from last year's team that finished 20-11. SIU lost Tyler Smithpeters and Jonathan Wiley to graduation, but expect a boost from senior center Thik Bol, who missed all of last season with a knee injury, plus three incoming freshmen — Darius Beane, Sam Shafer and Amadou Fall. Fall is not expected to be able to compete during the tour, as he had surgery to repair a knee injury during the winter and could be out until September, but will accompany the team.
SIU also got a verbal commitment from shooting guard Jimmy Beane, a 6-foot-5 scorer from Potter's House Prep School in Florida Monday. Beane expects to sign with the team next week and compete for minutes as a true freshman this winter.
SIU hasn't taken a foreign tour since August of 2008, when the team traveled to Windsor, Canada.
"This is a great opportunity for us to get better on and off the court as a unit and lay the foundation for the upcoming season," Hinson said in a statement. "We are especially grateful to Roger and Sally Tedrick for their financial support that will make this trip possible."
Four of SIU's five returning starters will be seniors in 2018-19, guards Marcus Bartley, Sean Lloyd, guard/forward Armon Fletcher and center Kavion Pippen. Fletcher was a second team all-conference pick and a first team all-district selection by the National Basketball Coaches Association Tuesday. Lloyd made the MVC's All-Defensive Team, and Pippen was a third team all-conference pick and made the All-Newcomer Team.
Guard Aaron Cook, a member of the league's most improved team, will be a junior next season. Cook started 32 of 33 games last season and was the team's fourth-leading scorer at 9.8 points per game.
Bol, who redshirted this past season with a knee injury, was a preseason All-Missouri Valley Conference second team pick and one of the league's top shotblockers. Bol began practicing in April. The Salukis also return backup guard Eric McGill, who played in 10 games before breaking his hand. He was expected to get 2017-18 as a medical redshirt and play as a junior in the upcoming season.