Southern men hope to build on tourney success

Southern men's basketball coach Roman Banks Show caption
Southern men's basketball coach Roman Banks

People are starting to be familiar with us like they used to be in the past when Southern was really good.” ROMAN BANKS, Southern coach

With last month’s scare of Gonzaga in the NCAA tournament still fresh, Southern men’s basketball coach Roman Banks hopes the momentum his program has built will carry over to the recruiting trail.

Banks said he and his coaching staff, having signed one prospect in the fall, are hard at work looking to add talent with the start of college basketball’s spring signing period (April 17-May 15) fast approaching.

“It has really brought awareness to the basketball program,” Banks, who recently completed his second season, said of the recent success. “People are starting to be familiar with us like they used to be in the past when Southern was really good.”

The Jaguars move forward after winning 23 games this season and reaching the NCAA tournament for the first time since 2006. Their performance in a 64-58 loss to Gonzaga garnered national attention as Southern flirted with becoming the first No. 16 seed to beat a No. 1 seed.

Having already signed 6-foot-6 forward DeChriston McKinney out of McLennan Community College in Waco, Texas, Banks said he expects to sign four more players in the spring.

The Jaguars will also welcome 6-9 forward Damian Goodwin, a member of the 2012 recruiting class. Goodwin, from Columbia High in Decatur, Ga., spent last season developing his skills as a redshirt.

Banks has dug Southern out of the APR rut he inherited after taking the Southern job in the spring of 2011 and expects to have the full allotment of 13 scholarships in 2013-14 for the first time. But he said the Jaguars are still awaiting official word from the NCAA regarding their scholarship count.

Last year, Southern had only eight active scholarship players.

The Jaguars lose four of those players: point guard Jameel Grace, shooting guard Derek Beltran and forwards Brandon Moore and Madut Bol.

Grace and Bol were both recruited by former Southern coach Rob Spivery and spent four years in the program. Beltran, a first-team All-Southwestern Athletic Conference selection, joined the Jaguars as a junior-college transfer before the 2011-12 season. Moore played only one season with the team, as a fifth-year senior, after transferring from Florida International.

Rather than depending so heavily on veteran transfers like Beltran and Moore who can provide a quick fix, Banks said he now wants to start pulling in more local prospects who can enter the program as freshmen and be part of his system for four years.

“You really want to be able to recruit good high school players,” Banks said.

College coaches can’t comment on unsigned recruits by name, but it’s no secret one of Banks’ top targets resides under his own roof.

Tre’Lun Banks is a 6-foot-1 point guard for Scotlandville who recently led the Hornets to their second straight Class 5A state championship. He also happens to be Roman Banks’ son.

“I think we have something to offer,” Roman Banks said of recruiting locally. “I think the last couple of years, we have made ourselves marketable. We’re going to do our part, and hopefully we can grab the three or four guys around the area that we think can fit in nicely and help us win.”

Because the Jaguars are free of APR sanctions that kept them sidelined during the 2012 conference tournament, Banks no longer has to answer questions from recruits about postseason eligibility.

The first question Banks usually answers these days is a sign of how far the program has come.

Will he be at Southern for the entirety of a recruit’s career? Or will he bolt for greener pastures?

After the 2011-12 season, athletic director William Broussard added a list of performance-based incentives to the three-year deal Banks signed in 2011. However, Banks has not received an extension and has only one year remaining on his contract.

Because of the university’s recent financial woes, Southern has been reluctant to offer long-term contracts to its coaches.

“It’s no secret other schools, as it relates to a head coach or a top assistant at a high level, are trying to recruit you,” Banks said. “If you’re pretty good, that’s what they try to do. But I hope that our athletic director, along with our administration, can erase some of these rumors that are out there and make a bold statement that this is home for me.”

Banks said the Jaguars, despite their recent success, have not yet reached the heights he envisions.

He hopes to have more he can sell recruits in years to come.

“What will help is if we’re able to continue to win 18 or 20 games every year,” he said. “Then you start putting yourself up there as a top program. It’s going to take us being consistent. You can’t have a good year every once in a while.”

Beltran named to HBCU team

Southern was represented by Beltran on the Boxtorow.com Division I All-America team, comprised of players from historically black colleges and universities.

Beltran averaged 16 points to finish second in the SWAC in scoring. He had 21 points in the loss to Gonzaga.

Norfolk State junior Pendarvis Williams was named Player of the Year after averaging 14.3 points and connecting on 40.6 percent of his 3-point attempts. Norfolk won the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference regular-season title.