Players adjusting to the new 3-point line, details on Saluki Basketball Fan Fest and Community Appreciation Night, and coach Bryan Mullins' state championship recruiting are some of the tidbits in today's 5@5.
SIU's men's basketball team opens the season Tuesday night in an exhibition against Division II Minnesota State. Tipoff is at 7 p.m. at the Banterra Center.
1. Community Appreciation Night: All single-game tickets for Tuesday's exhibition game are discounted to 50% off, posters will be given out, and the team will sign autographs after the game. Tickets are on sale now at SIUSalukis.com and by calling 877-SALUKIS.
The Salukis will also be honoring community members during the game. Several local charities will have booths set up in the Charles Helleny Pavilion, including Good Samaritan Ministries, Veterans Honor Flight, Boys and Girls Club, Boy Scouts of America, the Women's Center, IlliniCare Health, and Southern Illinois Wellness. SIU is also inviting fans to come to the Banterra Center Oct. 30 to meet the men's and women's players and coaches beginning at 6:30 p.m.
2. Anything and everything: With 10 new players, Mullins and his staff have worked since June trying to implement their culture and style. With the first game a few days away, Mullins said even the returning guys have bought in.
"I love the group that I'm coaching right now," Mullins said. "We have four returning guys with Aaron Cook and Eric McGill being the two guys that played the most last year. Brendon Gooch has played a little bit in the last couple years, and Sekou Dembele, who redshirted last year. We really have a new locker room. The thing we've stressed the most throughout summer, throughout the fall and practice right now is accountability and doing your best at everything. 'How you do anything is how you do everything,' has been our team motto so far."
SIU has three true freshmen, two redshirt freshmen, two sophomores, three juniors, and four seniors/graduate transfers.
3. That longer line? Not that different, players say: SIU led the Missouri Valley Conference in 3-point shooting last season, hitting 37.4% of its triples in 32 games. The Salukis return two of their best perimeter shooters, in Aaron Cook (40 3s, tied for the team lead) and Eric McGill (35), but have to adjust to a deeper line this year after the NCAA moved the line back to 22 feet, 1 3/4 inches.
Last season it was 20-9, but players said they've adjusted to the new distance after a lot of repetition.
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"At first I was leaving it short a bit, but I've adjusted to it," SIU graduate student guard Ronnie Suggs said. "During practice, and after hours, we get up thousands of shots, I mean, thousands of shots. We've been pretty good there."
4. Stevan catching up: Stevan Jeremic, a 6-11, 250-pound junior center from Serbia, was the last guy to join this season's club.
Jeremic came in early September, so he was weeks behind his teammates, but made an early impression with how he was able to handle the team's boot camp.
"I think he earned the guys' respect right away, just with how well he did when we were doing some of our toughness stuff and conditioning things," Mullins said. "He's been great in practice, and he's still learning, because he is eight weeks behind the rest of the team with what we did over the summer, but I expect him to contribute."
Jeremic, junior forward Brendon Gooch and redshirt freshman forward Sekou Dembele are battling for minutes behind Benson. Freshman forward Marcus Domask might also see some time in the post against smaller teams.
5. Butler continues state championship pedigree: Eric Butler, a 6-3 guard at Orlando Christian High School who verbally committed to SIU Thursday, continued Mullins' state championship pedigree in recruiting.
Butler led his team to the Class 3A state title game, where it lost on a buzzer-beater. They return all 11 players from last season.
Butler is one of six players on the current Saluki roster who won a state championship or lost in the title game. Ben Harvey, Domask, Karrington Davis, Trent Brown and Gooch all won state titles. Freshman guard Lance Jones took Evanston Township High School to the state title game in March, but lost to E.J. Liddelll, an Ohio State recruit, and Belleville West in the final.