I'm a patient person.

I can endure 23 games of inexplicably poor entry passes. I can endure defenders getting beat on the baseline night after night. I can even endure three-second and shot clock violations.

There are, however, two things that are inexcusable - lack of effort and bad behavior by student-athletes. When those two happen in tandem, it's time to take a long, hard look at what is happening at the SIU Arena.

Seriously, that's a modest baseline when you are receiving a free education and thousands of fans shell out their hard-earned dollars to watch you play a dozen times a year.

The Salukis, save Mamadou Seck, Carlton Fay and isolated shifts by another player or two, gave little to no effort in Wednesday's shameful loss to Drake. Losing to Drake, or Creighton, Wichita State, or UNI in the Arena used to be unthinkable.

Now, it's largely expected.

And, that still really wouldn't be a cause for anger if one thought the team was putting forth an effort.

Lack of effort was never more apparent than the Drake debacle. Boos rained down on players and coaches Wednesday night. And, we're not talking about isolated boos.

Dissatisfaction has been bubbling below the surface over the state of the basketball program for the past 24 months. That dissatisfaction reached the boiling point when the Salukis sleep-walked through the Drake loss.

I've been a regular in the SIU Arena since 1972. I haven't heard booing like that since Rich Herrin took over a devastated program in 1985.

Herrin put together a rag-tag group that first year. Somehow the team won eight games. If there were boos in those days, I don't remember them. Although not talented, that group was motivated - something that seems almost anachronistic now.

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As an SIU alum, I was hoping the Drake loss represented rock bottom. Who would have thought I set my expectations too high?

On Friday we learn that Mykel Cleveland, Troy Long and Gene Teague were suspended for three games for an on-campus incident.

There was a time, not too many years ago, that SIU players spoke of their teammates as family. Those days are long gone, unless of course you classify the family as dysfunctional. Family members don't let each other down like that.

To make things even worse, this incident occurred on Hall of Fame weekend. Doesn't it make you proud?

There were times this year I was heartened by the product on the floor. The team seemed to be giving more effort. The horrible shot selection that plagued the team last year improved dramatically.

Yet, any positive strides made by the team were flushed away in the past three weeks.

The issues surrounding the team are, apparently, systemic. There needs to be some serious soul-searching, as well as external review, of the entire program.

Everyone involved with the program bears responsibility for the current state of affairs. And, the current state of affairs is deplorable - on and off the floor.

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



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