Southern to honor senior champions

The Southern men’s basketball team has won the Southwestern Athletic Conference regular-season title and it’s the clear-cut favorite to win the conference tournament next week.

But the on-the-court accomplishments tell only part of the story of these Jaguars, especially the four seniors who will be honored before the regular-season finale against Texas Southern at approximately 5:30 p.m. Saturday in the F.G. Clark Activity Center.

Southern is 19-11 and 15-2 in the SWAC and the Tigers are 15-14 and 11-6.

Forward Malcolm Miller, center Javan Mitchell, guard Yondarius Johnson and reserve forward Bryce Clark won’t be able to play beyond the SWAC Tournament because the Jaguars are banned from NCAA postseason play, but these seniors will take a bow Saturday for what they and their teammates have accomplished amid the ban.

“The average team can’t go through what we’ve been through this year and continue to get motivated to play,” Southern coach Roman Banks said. “You’re playing for something then all of a sudden they say you can’t go to postseason play. I have to give these seniors applause for believing in me and helping me get these guys ready every night.”

Miller was the SWAC Preseason Player of the Year and has been playing up to that expectation in recent weeks after a slow start to the season.

“To work through some things and now to start figuring some things out and to see him having an MVP-type finishing season is great to see,” Banks said.

“I think he sacrificed a lot of shot selections for more efficient selections and then to start playing defense and blocking shots and being someone you can count on that’s a sign of a true leader and a senior.”

Banks visited with Miller when he was struggling with his shot early in the season.

“He said, “Coach, we’re going to figure this out,’ ” Banks said. “I think it shows when you go through something and you stand the test of time, good things can happen for you.”

Miller, who’s from Midland, Texas, is second on the team in scoring (12.2 points per game), rebounding (5.1) and blocked shots (38). He leads in steals (29) and is third in assists (37).

“Everybody knew I could shoot, but I knew I had to do more than that,” Miller said. “I really took pride in showing I could do more than that.

“I try to make a play every possession whether it’s getting a rebound, a deflection, a block, a steal or an assist. Then when the opportunity comes I do what I do best.”

Miller has the highest 3-point percentage (40.0) and free-throw percentage (76.5) on the team.

Mitchell’s season also got off to a slow start, but for a very different reason. He was sidelined during preseason practice while being treated for an enlarged heart, which set his conditioning back. He has been a bigger part of the offense of late and had 15 points in 21 minutes in a 91-59 win against Prairie View A&M on Thursday.

“For Javan to have lots of high expectations and then to start off with an injury like he had that threatened his career and see him bounce back to where he is today is really gratifying to me,” Banks said.

Mitchell, who’s from St. Martinville, is averaging 5.6 points and 3.9 rebounds and is a key part of the Jaguars’ league-leading defense.

“Coach Banks talked to me every day and said just keep fighting, keep fighting, it’s going to come,” Mitchell said.

Johnson, who’s from Plain Dealing, moved into the starting lineup after Christopher Hyder was lost for the season due to a blood clot in his shoulder that was discovered at mid-season. Trelun Banks moved from shooting guard to point guard and Johnson, who had been known mostly for his defense, became the starting shooting guard.

“Yondarius worked to become a defensive stopper for us and accepted that role,” coach Banks said, “and now he has started to figure out the offense for himself to make us a more dangerous team. I really appreciate that he just comes to work every day and doesn’t say anything no matter what we’re going through.”

Johnson has emerged as the third-leading scorer on the team (10.2).

“I kind of started off slow this season,” Johnson said. “Coach talked to me about what my role was. I listened to what he said and I worked on it. He said I’m a senior and I had to step up and play a bigger role.

“This year teams have keyed in on Malcolm and that gave me good shots and I’ve been knocking them down.”

Clark, who’s from Fort Lauderdale, Fla., has taken on a more prominent role in the rotation down the stretch. He has averaged 3.2 points and 2.1 rebounds in 7.9 minutes for the season, but in his last four games he has averaged 6.8 points and 3.8 rebounds in 11.8 minutes.

“Bryce came in and had all the physical talent but hadn’t played enough basketball to understand team concept and system,” Banks said. “For him to keep working when he’s being chastised and could have thrown in the towel I think that’s kind of the testament of this team. You can either throw in the towel or keep bouncing back.”

Clark is in graduate school, Mitchell and Johnson are scheduled to graduate in May and Miller is on schedule to graduate at the end of the summer.

“These seniors kind of define what our season has been like,” Banks said. “We’re all close knit anyway, but I think we’ve all become closer.”