CARBONDALE — November is typically the more transcendent signing period for Division I men's basketball teams, but the spring has been a big part of SIU coach Barry Hinson's new roster.
Two of the Salukis' three returning starters for the 2017-18 campaign officially joined the program after March, prep school transfer Sean Lloyd (July 2015) and junior college transfer Thik Bol (April 2016). Guard Armon Fletcher signed with SIU in November of 2013, redshirted, and will be a junior this winter.
Lloyd, now a 6-foot-5, 215-pound junior for the upcoming season, moved into the starting lineup mostly off his defensive prowess and scored 10 or more points 12 times. Bol, a 6-8 forward out of Iowa Western Community College, started every game in his first season with the Salukis and became the team's second-leading rebounder. Bol blocked 76 shots, the third-most in a single season in school history, and finished as the team's fourth-leading scorer at 9.1 points per game.
Reserves Jonathan Wiley, Rudy Stradnieks and Austin Weiher also signed in April or May. Hinson hopes juco guard Eric McGill and juco forward Kavion Pippen, who signed with the team Wednesday, can also make big impacts after long recruitments.
"When you feel like somebody is your priority, you stay with him as long as you possibly can. We did," Hinson said, pointing to the 6-10 Pippen, who came from Three Rivers (Missouri) Community College after about a year of courting. "The point person on all of this, was (assistant coach) Anthony Beane. (Assistant) Brad Autry was the point person on McGill, and we recruited him all year long."
McGill, a 6-3 guard out of Panola (Texas) College, averaged 11.6 points, 3.4 rebounds and 5.6 assists per game for a 26-9 squad that set the school record for wins. A 39.5 percent 3-point shooter, he sank 14 of 25 in his last five games of the year and led the team with 85 steals.
McGill came on SIU's radar in 2015 when he was at Southeast Missouri State and played the Salukis, and re-emerged last July. When he went for 20 points in three of four games in March, including a win over Shelton State at the NJCAA national tournament, SIU got concerned it might lose him to a bigger program. More than 25 teams called about him in late March, Panola coach Grant McMillan said, but because the Salukis began building their potential relationship with him months earlier, he ultimately signed with them.
"He's a guy that put the work in all year, and he hit shots in a tough environment," McMillan said. "You don't get to practice at that floor at the national tournament, and I think the first game of the tournament he went 4 for 4 from 3. He had 27 schools call about him in the last week, and SIU had been on him for a few weeks, because of a relationship and because they liked him, so they got on him early."
Pippen, a 220-pound post that played forward and center for a 25-8 Raiders squad, was one of SIU's top recruiting priorities. Stradnieks and Weiher didn't contribute as much as the Salukis had hoped as sophomores, and senior forward Sean O'Brien started his 100th straight game in the semifinals of the MVC tournament. Hoping to land another big to play with, or behind Bol, SIU landed a 6-10 player who can score with his back to the basket, rebound, block shots and help play the back row of a potentially menacing zone defense.
Pippen said SIU's coaches, players and one important alum sold the program more than the style of play. Beane, a Three Rivers alum who later played at Kansas State, Hinson, and former Saluki volleyball player Taylor Pippen, his cousin, all convinced him Carbondale was the place for him.
"Just the coaches. I had a great conversation and I just felt comfortable around them," he said. "Coach Hinson and coach Beane, they made me feel like it was home. Like they were a family, and the players made me feel comfortable, too."
March, April and May have not always been a happy time for the Salukis. Six players left after the 2014-15 season, when SIU finished 12-21, including two starters (forward Jordan Caroline and guard Deion Lavender). Guard Jalen Pendleton, a junior who was Hinson's first recruit at SIU, left to play his senior season at Division II Minnesota State. It opened the door to get Mike Rodriguez and Leo Vincent, who helped the Salukis to their first 20-win season in nine years in 2016.
Former Salukis Mamadou Seck, Tony Freeman, Desmar Jackson, and LaMar Owen all signed between March and July. The November early period typically features high school juniors who are going into their senior season or players that made late decisions to transfer. Fletcher, Aaron Cook, Tyler Smithpeters and Brendon Gooch all signed with the Salukis as incoming freshmen.
With the graduate transfer rule, and fewer and fewer players staying in one place for 4-5 years, the spring could soon become SIU's busiest recruiting season. On the current roster, five of the Salukis' 15 players came from another college.
"With the mass transfer exodus that's gone on in college basketball in recent years, we've really put a heavy emphasis on junior college players," Hinson said.