Banks restructuring men’s team; Pugh confident in women’s team
Same court, different outlooks.
On the past two Fridays, Southern’s basketball teams have opened practices and begun preparing for their seasons on the fresh new playing surface inside the F.G. Clark Activity Center.
For the men, who started this week, it’s all about managing expectations after a surprising and thrilling turnaround that pumped some life back into SU basketball last year.
“We’re not there yet,” coach Roman Banks said.
For Sandy Pugh’s women’s squad, which got under way last week, the tone is more optimistic.
“I’m really excited about this team,” she said.
“I think this team has an opportunity to be one of my best ever.”
At such an early stage, there’s no telling how their respective seasons will pan out, but with plenty of potential on both rosters, how they come together during the preseason and nonconference schedules will go a long way toward determining it.
For Banks, practices will bring a much-needed chance to cobble together a group of fresh faces.
Seven players are gone from his team that finished its Southwestern Athletic Conference schedule in second place at 13-5, and seven newcomers will take the court for the first time when the Jaguars open their season at Iowa State on Nov. 9.
Leading scorer Derick Beltran (13.2 points per game) is back, along with third-leading scorer Jameel Grace (9.6). But the rest of the top five — Quinton Doggett, Mike Celestin and Fredrick Coleman — are gone, along with other members of the supporting cast.
In their place, Banks will hope for a major impact from the likes of center Javan Mitchell, who sat out last season after transferring from UL-Lafayette, and transfers Brandon Moore (center), Malcolm Miller (guard) and Aaron Alston (forward).
Banks is happy with the added talent and expects to put an improved lineup on the floor in terms of height, but there’s a lot to sort out first.
He won’t be changing the playing style, so his revamped squad will have to pick up the system and jell quickly.
“The blueprint is there for how we’re going to play from last year, but hopefully we’re longer and more active and make it a better and more encouraging brand of basketball,” he said.
Meanwhile, Pugh has altered her team’s playing style, looking for a more team-oriented and entertaining attack.
“I think that when people see them, they’re going to be pleasantly surprised,” Pugh said. “One of the biggest things I really struggled with was that I thought we stood around too much last year. The offense we’re running is more of a motion offense, so it’s designed to get the team moving, share the basketball and take advantage of the defense. The kids love it.
“I love it, so I just look for great things.”
Her players agree, and they’re well aware of Pugh’s opinion that this team could be her best at Southern.
And rather than feeling the heat from such a statement, they’re eager to meet the expectations.
“In a sense, it is a little bit of pressure, but at the same time, if we keep the chemistry that we have and keep pushing each other, then we won’t even think of it as any kind of pressure,” guard Adrian Sanders said.
On the men’s side, the expectations are high as well, despite Banks’ attempts to minimize them.
As he says, this is only Year 2 of what he had planned on being a three- to four-year turnaround, and with all the roster turnover, it might as well be the first year all over again.
But for those who remain from the 2010-11 season, there’s a sense of belief the Jaguars can return to their former glory, and after escaping the NCAA postseason bans that had limited them in the past, they’re free to set their sights on a SWAC title, something Beltran said he and Grace discuss often.
“This gave us a whole different mindset about the game now,” Beltran said. “Last year, we weren’t able to go, and the year before they weren’t able to go, so (Grace’s) mindset is different and mine is different because I’ve never been to the NCAA tournament or SWAC tournament — nothing like that.
“So working hard is just built in us right now. We won’t be denied at all.”