Last season, the Southern men’s basketball team finished with its best record in Southwestern Athletic Conference play since 2005.
The 13-5 mark was good enough for second in the conference, but the Jaguars couldn’t reap any of the benefits of their success because of academic-related penalties.
The NCAA had handed down a postseason ban on SU, thanks to substandard scores in its Academic Progress Rate.
It was Roman Banks’ first season in Baton Rouge, and the newly hired coach didn’t limit his accomplishments to the court in his inaugural campaign. In the past year, Southern ranked in the top three percentiles in Division I APR turnaround, making the Jaguars eligible for postseason play this year.
“We took the job in a very tough situation, and our penalty was practice time, no postseason play and scholarships,” Banks said. “We came in and turned academics around and wrote a waiver to the NCAA allowing us to go to postseason play. We can go to postseason play, but then there’s still a three-year period of this probation that we’re on. That means that we can’t falter.”
Southern couldn’t have picked a better year than now to become postseason-eligible. Now in his second season as Jaguars coach, Banks has Southern sitting at .500 entering SWAC play for the first time this century.
The Jaguars (6-6) open league play with Texas Southern (1-12) on Wednesday looking for a winning record for the first time all season. But Banks warned not to look past the Tigers’ suspect record.
“You’re talking about a program in the last four or five years that’s been pretty solid in conference play,” Banks said. “They bring in a coach of the likes of (former Indiana coach) Mike Davis, and he can come in with innovative and new ideas. With him inheriting the same team with just about all their players back, they come in as one of the best teams in our league with a lot of experience.”
The challenge doesn’t stop there for Southern. After the Texas Southern game Wednesday, the Jaguars have a quick turnaround with Prairie View coming to town Friday.
Southern then hits the road to play Grambling on Sunday and Jackson State on Tuesday, giving them four games in seven days. With a brutal slate ahead of the Jaguars, Banks said the biggest key to success is preparation.
“The team that has the type of athletes that can bounce back and be able to receive information and process it quickly (will succeed),” Banks said. “That means preparing for people and being able to bounce back with energy every night. We’ve got to take care of our bodies and be smart about our approach.
“Those things you’ve worked hard for in preseason and things you’ve had in place that your kids know. Those are the things you have to gravitate to and hold on to to have a chance to win ball games.”
For Southern, school is still out, which Banks said gives the Jaguars an advantage.
“I think that from a mental standpoint, it probably helps a little bit, because these games are coming up and you don’t have that big English test or that biology exam,” Banks said. “Right now, we need to take advantage of that, because in the next few weeks, we’ve got to turn back around and got to that.”
With SWAC play comes a new season of sorts, and new goals.
The Jaguars have 18 conference games ahead of them before the SWAC tournament in mid-March, and Banks said Southern still has high goals.
“Anybody can say they want to win a championship, but how do you do that?” Banks said. “I asked all my guys, ‘What do you want to do?’ (They said), ‘We want to win a championship.’ Every team in the conference wants to win a championship.
“There is a certain way you have to work toward being successful in reaching that goal. My approach is simple — let’s take it one game at a time right now and see where we are.”