The Southern men’s basketball team conducted its first on-campus practice for the 2013-14 season Wednesday, hoping to build on the momentum they gained from last year’s storybook run to the NCAA tournament.
The Jaguars, coming off a 23-10 record, fell just short of pulling the ultimate upset in college basketball, losing 64-58 to No. 1-seeded Gonzaga in the NCAA tournament.
Southern began this year with an August trip to Canada, winning all three of its exhibition contests against colleges from north of the border.
“You can’t trade in that kind of experience,” Southern coach Roman Banks said. “We had a chance to get in 10 practices together while in Canada, and then to play some regulation games. I think that body of work is really going to show up for us down the line.”
Perhaps the trip to Canada came at a perfect time for the Jaguars basketball program. They begin this season with a difficult nonconference schedule, and while they’ll have some veterans back in the fold, they’ll also have to count on some key newcomers.
Southern will again rely heavily upon guard Malcolm Miller, who finished 21st in the country in 3-point percentage last season.
The team also brings back Javan Mitchell to provide a reliable post presence.
But the Jaguars have plenty of incoming talent that will be featured early and often.
One of those new faces is transfer Calvin Godfrey.
Godfrey, a 6-foot-9 forward, initially planned on transferring to LSU from Iowa State but was not accepted into LSU because of academic issues, thus opening the door for Southern.
“Calvin played well for us in Canada,” Banks said. “He really didn’t know what he was doing, but we were able to see how he would fit within the program. He’s going to be an immediate impact for us, talent-wise. He is the type of talent an SEC school recruits.”
Godfrey sat out last season but is now ready to play.
Along with Godfrey, Southern also welcomes Tre’lun Banks, the coach’s son and a Scotlandville High graduate.
“Tre’lun, as it relates to a freshman, played very well for us in Canada,” Roman Banks said.
So far, the younger Banks’ transition as a high school senior to college freshman has gone as perhaps expected, considering his unique position on the team.
“Tre’lun doesn’t come home much anymore,” Roman Banks said with a laugh. “His mom is always asking why he doesn’t come home. I guess he doesn’t want to be around ol’ coach that much anymore.”
Despite last year’s success — or perhaps because of it — things will only get more difficult as the Jaguars become a known commodity in college basketball.
“I think a lot of people have put some lofty goals out there for us,” Banks said. “According to some, we’re one of the top-10 mid-major programs in college basketball — and I hope six months from now, our season shows that they were right.”
They’ll be right if Banks is right. Now in his third season in a tenure that began with a massive rebuilding project, Banks claims he finally has the pieces in place to fit his system.
“This year’s team is more toward the trend that I envisioned of the style of how I want to play,” Banks said. “I think my first year, because we were so small, we got up and down the court because we had to. But now, we’re going to get up and down the court because we’re tall and athletic. We have the ability to do so.”
Southern’s schedule features a number of prominent programs, including road games at Florida, Baylor, Arizona and Marquette to open the season Nov. 8.
Southern will host Tulane and Arkansas-Little Rock before Southwestern Athletic Conference play begins.
“We’re at a program where you have to go out and make a certain amount of money, and we got turned down by so many people, so we reached out to teams in the top-20,” Banks said. “They don’t mind playing you at home. They gave us a chance to play them and generate some revenue.
“And then we got lucky enough, when I first got here, to schedule some two-for-one deals, and now those are home games for us.”
Southern season basketball tickets are available in the gold reserved seating area inside the F.G. Clark Activity Center at $125 per book.
General-admission seating is available starting at $7 for single-game tickets and up to $15 for reserved seating.
For ticket information, fans can call the Southern ticket office at (225) 771-3171.
The Jaguars will conduct two preseason events leading up to their season opener.
On Oct. 20, Southern will conduct its “Jaguar Pandemonium,” which will include a slam dunk and skills contest.
On Nov. 1, Jaguar fans can meet players for pictures and autographs.