CARBONDALE — Jakolby Long has a lot to talk about with roommates Sekou Dembele and J.D. Muila.
All three of them have had to overcome significant injuries, both before this SIU basketball season and during it. Dembele, a 6-foot-7, 230-pound sophomore forward, shattered his leg in a collision with Bradley guard Darrell Brown in January 2020. He missed the rest of that season, rehabbed all year after surgery, and now backs up starting center Kyler Filewich and forward Anthony D'Avanzo. Muila, a top-25 junior college player in 2020, tore his meniscus before the season and just recently got off of crutches.
Long has endured hamstring and groin injuries this season, and had to completely change his shot after undergoing rotator cuff surgery after his freshman season at Iowa State in 2017. Ranked as the top prep player in Oklahoma at Mustang High School, Long was a shooter before the injury, averaging 24.6 points, eight rebounds and 5.3 assists as a senior. Now he focuses more at the other end when he comes in for the Salukis (10-10, 4-10 Missouri Valley Conference).
"When I get in the game, I just to play as hard as I can and help the team get a defensive stop," Long said. "Whatever coach Bryan (Mullins) needs from me, I'll do it. I'm just trying to help the team win. That's the only thing that matters to me."
Long, a 6-5, 210-pound graduate guard, played his first two years at Iowa State before transferring to Southern Utah. He played in 27 games in 2019-20, starting 17, and averaged six points and 2.9 rebounds per game for a 17-15 club. A three-star guard at Mustang High School and among the Rivals.com top 150 players in his class, Long signed with the Cyclones over offers from Oklahoma State, Georgia and Missouri. He was in talks with Charlotte, Illinois-Chicago and Albany before electing to play for the Salukis.
Then his grandfather, a big influence in his life growing up in Oklahoma City, was diagnosed with cancer.
Long wanted to play closer to him, where he could possibly come see him compete. His one connection with SIU was a loose one. When Iowa State played Milwaukee a few years ago, Pat Monaghan was an assistant coach with the Panthers. With a roster of six sophomores and four freshmen, the Salukis were in search of some talent, yes, but also some experience. Long played on an Iowa State club that won the Big 12 Conference title his freshman year and reached the NCAA Tournament. Twenty-two of his 77 rebounds at Southern Utah came at the offensive end, and despite a slight pause at the top of his retooled jumper, he shot 45.9% from the field that season.
Mullins wanted Long for different reasons.
"Jakolby's been an unbelievable teammate. He's had a lot of injuries, really, not the serious ones but the nagging, with the groin, hamstring, throughout the fall and throughout the first half of the season," Mullins said. "Was on pause with being in quarantine, as well, so he's had a lot of things outside of his control. But outside of basketball, in the locker room, in the apartments, he's been awesome. He echoes the message. He relays the culture, so, he's been a great addition to our program."
Without leading scorer Marcus Domask, who has missed the last 10 games with a left foot injury, SIU has struggled to find a consistent rudder for its 2020-21 ship. The Salukis split their last three weekend series, lost both games against Missouri State by double digits, and must go at least 2-2 to have a chance to escape the bottom four places in the standings beginning Saturday afternoon against Valparaiso (8-15, 5-9).
Valpo has one more win and one less loss than SIU, and finishes at home against fourth-place Indiana State (13-8, 10-6). The Salukis will lose any tiebreaker against the Brown and Gold (they're no longer the Crusaders) because they beat second-seeded Drake (21-2, 12-2) earlier this season. The only way SIU could split and still pass Valpo in a tie would be if it's able to take a game at No. 22 Loyola next weekend in Chicago.
On Twitter: @THefferman