Sports editor

Les Winkeler is sports editor and outdoors writer for The Southern Illinoisan.

Something Barry Hinson said in Saturday’s postgame press conference stuck with me through the week.

The statement had nothing to do with his wife’s ability to pump fake. It had nothing to do with barbecue sauce. There was no rant involved. And, the statement wasn’t part of the folksy yarns Hinson is fond of spinning.

It was a direct, to the point, statement about the play of Kavion Pippen in Saturday’s 98-68 exhibition win over Rockhurst.

The spotlight on Pippen, a Three Rivers Community College transfer, intensified this week. Since the Salukis announced signing Scottie Pippen’s nephew, a 6-foot-10, 220 pound forward, there has been speculation whether the Salukis could play Pippen and Thik Bol, SIU’s 6-8 shot-blocking sensation, that emerged last year.

That speculation became a moot point last week when the program announced Bol had undergone knee surgery that will keep him out nearly six weeks. Depending on his recuperation, Bol could be sidelined for the rest of the year.

As Hinson put it, the news was a “punch in the gut.”

In an instant, Pippen’s role morphed from intriguing possibility to vital cog.

Pippen responded with a big performance against Rockhurst. And, let’s be perfectly clear here, this wasn’t Kentucky, Kansas or Duke, it was Rockhurst, a Division II school in Kansas City. But, Pippen scored 23 points and had eight rebounds and three blocks in 23 minutes.

Granted, Pippen wasn’t playing against Shaquille O’Neal, Tim Duncan or Bill Russell. But, he played hard. He played confidently. Most importantly, he played like a big.

Pippen rebounded in heavy traffic. He caught the ball well in the post. He was decisive when he got the ball on the block. Perhaps best of all, Pippen used his physical size to his advantage, going strong to the rim.

When asked how important it was to him to see Pippen’s performance, Hinson had a classic reply.

“I don’t know important it was for me, I think it was really important for our kids to see,” Hinson said. “I think it really helped them a bunch, that all is not lost.”

Through the years, I’ve heard some intense, some funny, some personal and some revealing things come from Hinson. That statement is probably the most insightful.

Earlier this year the Salukis lost Marcus Bartley, projected to be the team’s starting point guard, to a hand injury. Like Pippen, Bartley’s injury is expected to keep him on the bench for six weeks of so. But, SIU is deep at guard.

Yes, Bartley’s absence will be felt, but SIU is in much better position to absorb an injury at the guard spot. Bol’s injury created a discernible, worrisome void.

Pippen showed his teammates that he is a credible inside force, that throwing the ball to the low post won’t be an exercise in futility. Certainly, Pippen’s teammates already suspected that, but seeing results under game conditions is positive reinforcement at its best.

LES WINKELER is sports editor for The Southern Illinoisan. Contact him at les.winkeler@thesouthern.com, or call 618-351-5088 / On Twitter @LesWinkeler.

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