When the Southern men’s basketball team opens Southwestern Athletic Conference tournament play, the Jaguars will take the court for the first time in 13 days.
For the Southern women, it will be their first action in 11 days.
The long layoff puts coaches Roman Banks and Sandy Pugh in an unusual spot as they prepare their teams for what they hope will be the start of a long postseason.
Banks and the Southern men tip off as the No. 1 seed in the men’s tournament Friday night against the winner of No. 6 seed Alabama A&M and No. 7 seed Grambling.
Pugh and the women, seeded second, face the winner of No. 7 seed Arkansas-Pine Bluff and No. 10 seed Alcorn State on Wednesday afternoon.
All action in the SWAC tournament will be held at the Curtis Culwell Center in Garland, Texas, beginning Tuesday. Both championship games are set for Saturday, the women’s final at noon followed by the men’s at 3:30 p.m.
“Usually the bye is an advantage when you go right into the tournament,” said Banks, whose team has the only bye in the seven-team men’s bracket. “But everybody’s going to have had a week off.”
The SWAC tournament usually falls on the week after the regular season’s conclusion, but the conference pushed it back this year to accommodate several schools that were having midterm exams.
Banks said he made several calls to friends in the coaching industry and asked for their opinion on how to structure practices during the long layoff.
“There really isn’t a formula,” he said. “It’s not too often you have two weeks off before you start your conference tournament.”
Banks said the key is making sure his players get some needed rest but remain sharp going into the tournament.
The Jaguars finished second in the SWAC after leading the league much of the season, but picked up the No. 1 seed because regular-season champion Texas Southern is one of three teams ineligible for the men’s tournament.
The Southern women are the No. 2 seed despite finishing the regular season with five losses in their final seven games.
Pugh said she has been encouraged with how her players have responded since returning to practice.
“I’m pleased with their intensity level right now,” she said. “If we can continue to push, I think we will be a pleasant surprise to a lot of people.”
The layoff may have helped Southern guard Adrian Nelson, who missed the final two games of the regular season because of a concussion. Pugh expected to have her back at practice Sunday for the first time.
In only his second season as the Southern coach, Banks led the Jaguars to their first 20-win season since 1999 and their first unbeaten home record since 2006.
Those accomplishments were part of the reason he was honored Friday as the SWAC’s Co-Coach of the Year in men’s basketball, an honor he shared with Mike Davis, who led Texas Southern to the regular-season title in his first season.
“I’ll trade that award if you could tell me we’re going to win the conference tournament,” Banks said.
Banks got plenty of help this season from the likes of Derick Beltran and Malcolm Miller, who were both part of the five-player All-SWAC first team. Miller, a junior-college transfer who served as Southern’s sixth man, was also named the SWAC’s Newcomer of the Year.
Beltran, a senior, averaged 15.9 points and 1.3 steals during the regular season. Miller, a junior, averaged 16 points and 5.8 rebounds.
Banks also gave credit to his coaching staff for helping land him the SWAC honor.
“I have a great group of guys who work with me, guys who go out and recruit good players and do a good job developing those players,” he said. “I think it’s a reflection of the staff and the team rather than one individual.”
The Southern women had two players earn All-SWAC recognition as well: junior guard Kendra Coleman on the first team and senior forward Lechelle Rush on the third. Coleman averaged a team-high 10.9 points during the season despite sliding into the point guard position.
“We had to move her to point guard, away from her natural two-guard spot,” Pugh said. “She’s taken it in stride.”
Rush, one of three Southern seniors, averages 8.9 points and 6.9 rebounds.
Stephens back to herself
Pugh had good news about senior post player Laneisha Stephens, who was hampered late in the season by a lingering knee injury. Pugh said Stephens practiced with Southern throughout the week and will be good to go for the conference tournament.
“She’s as healthy as she’s been in a while,” Pugh said.
Stephens entered the season with a partially torn ACL but chose to play through the pain rather than undergo surgery and apply for a medical redshirt.
Banks made the trip Saturday to Monroe to watch Scotlandville beat Ouachita 80-71 in overtime for the Class 5A state championship.
He wasn’t going there to recruit, but to support the Hornets. Banks is the brother of Scotlandville coach Carlos Sample, himself a former Southern point guard.
“It’s good for me to sit back and watch the game,” Banks said. “Takes a little of the pressure off.”