NEW ORLEANS — After two nomadic seasons playing against a patchwork independent schedule, third-year coach Mark Slessinger finally has a place to call home for his UNO men’s basketball team.
Beginning with the upcoming academic year, the Privateers will become a dues-paying member of the Southland Conference, with all the rights and privileges afforded its 13 other business partners that include in-state schools Nicholls State, Southeastern Louisiana, McNeese State and Northwestern State, among others.
To say Slessinger is a happy camper after two homeless seasons is an understatement.
“It’s huge joining the Southland Conference,’’ Slessinger said Wednesday, which marks signing day for prospective student-athletes who intend on playing college basketball next season. “Being able to play for a conference championship and an automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament is absolutely huge.
“It’s been big.’’
The word “big’’ is relative. As it relates to Slessinger and UNO, it means 6-foot-7, 215-pound forward Terrance Syon of Navarro Junior College in Corsicana, Texas, who signed with the Privateers on Wednesday.
Syon averaged 5.7 points and 5.8 rebounds for Navarro JC this past season. A product of North Crowley High School in Fort Worth, Texas, he is a two-year starter who helped his team to a 46-19 record and a berth in the NJCAA national tournament as a freshman.
He joins a group of early signees that includes:
- Swingman Teris Bourgeois, 6-4, 190, San Jacinto JC. He was a third-team all-conference selection after leading the team with 14.3 points and 6.2 rebounds per game this season. He shot 51 percent from the field and 84 percent from the free-throw line.
- Guard Tevin Broyles, 6-4, 200, Gauthier (Miss.) High School. A first-team All-Region 7-5A selection, he averaged 18.7 points, 9.8 rebounds and four assists per game during his senior season.
- Guard Christavious Gill, 5-9, 170, Alexandria High. He averaged 22.7 points, 6.5 assists and 2.0 steals per game during senior season en route to being named first-team Class A All State.
- Guard James Harrison, 6-4, 190, Spring (Texas) Westfield. He averaged 15 points, 4.5 rebounds and 1.2 steals per game to earn first-team All-Region accolades as a senior.
The signing period for Division I schools runs through May 15, and Slessinger said he intends to pursue several other recruits until then. There is no rest for a coach who’s trying to upgrade a team that finished 8-18 this season, down from 17-15 in Year 1.
“We had to address a little bit of everything with this recruiting class,’’ he said. “We had to get forwards, point guards, wings. We had to add to every position, and at the same time, we had to get guys who we felt were good students and were good additions to the roster.
“The class that we’re putting together really adds to the direction of where we are going.’’
For now, that’s onward and upward, beginning with inclusion to the Southland Conference next season.
“There was a time when UNO was a top 25 team and we’re trying to build back towards that,’’ said Slessinger, who served as an assistant coach under Mike McConathy for 11 seasons at Northwestern State before taking the UNO job in June 2011. “I don’t think it happens overnight because the landscape of college basketball has changed, with a heavy emphasis on academics and retention. And UNO is a much tougher academic school today than it was way back when.
“But the biggest thing is we’re in a league where we can compete,’’ Slessinger added. “I know what the Southland Conference is about. I got it dialed in. I did it for 11 years at Northwestern State. I was part of championship and NCAA tournament teams. So were my assistants. My staff and I have a clear understanding of what it takes to win in the Southland Conference because we have done it. That’s a big piece of it.’’