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CARBONDALE — He started out at Bradley, then played two years at Missouri before transferring to SIU for his final season. And graduate transfer Ronnie Suggs has that return to Columbia, Missouri, on Dec. 15 circled on his calendar.

"I'm excited for that game," said Suggs, a 6-foot-6, 205-pound guard. "I've actually talked to some of my former teammates about it. It's going to be exciting to go back and go play there, and be with that crowd."

Suggs started and played 24 minutes in SIU's exhibition win over Minnesota State, but the Salukis (1-0) are still waiting for his season premiere after he missed Tuesday's opener against Illinois Wesleyan with a calf strain. After Tuesday's game, SIU coach Bryan Mullins said Suggs was still questionable for Friday's opener at the Sunshine Slam against UTSA (0-1), but he was improving every day.

SIU scored 76 points without him, with five players in double figures, three of them guards. Suggs' impact will be more at the defensive end, just like in the old YMCA in St. Louis.

"I've always had kind of a knack for stealing balls. They actually made a rule at the YMCA that I had to wait until half court before I could try to steal the ball, so, really at a young age, I've had active hands, quick feet," Suggs said. "When I was younger I played older players, some that were a foot taller than me, so I did what I could to get the ball."

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Suggs will also help SIU off the glass. He grabbed four rebounds in the exhibition win, and the Salukis will welcome any assistance there after giving up 18 offensive rebounds against Minnesota State and Illinois Wesleyan.

Mullins knows Suggs and center Barret Benson, a graduate transfer from Northwestern that scored a career-high 15 points Tuesday night, will be motivated to make SIU into a conference contender. The Salukis have 11 newcomers, tied for the fifth-most of any team in the country, and are expected to start three of them against the Roadrunners in Kissimmee, Florida.

"They've put in the work over the years, and they've played behind some really good players at different schools," Mullins said. "I think they have a chip on their shoulder. They're motivated. They want to leave a legacy here, and they've been the hardest-workers to go along with Eric (McGill) and Aaron (Cook)."

McGill (19 points) and Cook (10) combined for 29 of SIU's 45 points it got from its guards. They take on the highest-scoring returning backcourt in the country Friday night.

Junior guards Jhivvan Jackson (22.9 points per game) and Keaton Wallace (20.2 ppg.) combined for 43.1 points per game last season for the Roadrunners, the most in the nation. UTSA was picked second in Conference USA's preseason poll, but lost its opener at Oklahoma Tuesday night, 85-67. The other two teams at the Sunshine Slam, Delaware (1-0) and Oakland (1-0), beat non-Division I teams.

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todd.hefferman@thesouthern.com

618-351-5087

On Twitter: @THefferman

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