ST. LOUIS — When told being voted to the preseason all-Missouri Valley Conference first team didn’t come with a trophy, Illinois State junior forward MiKyle McIntosh just smiled.
“I would rather get a ring,” he said.
If history is any indication, McIntosh might get his wish.
McIntosh and senior guard Paris Lee became the first pair of ISU teammates on the preseason all-league first team since the 1997-98 season when Dan Muller and Rico Hill were selected. That season, the Redbirds won their last Valley title when they made their last NCAA Tournament appearance.
Despite having two of the league’s top five players on the all-conference team, ISU was still picked to finish second in the men's preseason basketball poll of coaches, media and sports information directors announced Tuesday at the MVC Media Day at the St. Louis City Center Hotel.
The Redbirds received four first-place votes. Three-time defending champion Wichita State was picked first thanks to 37 first-place votes and 413 poll points, followed by ISU (356), Northern Iowa (348), Missouri State (278) and Southern Illinois (228). UNI got the other first-place vote.
Muller, starting his fifth season as ISU’s coach, was fine with how the poll came out.
“I know if we go out there with the right mindset, keep our heads right, stay injury free and keep everyone on the court, we’ve got a great chance,” said Muller, who voted the Redbirds first on his ballot.
Northern Iowa senior swingman Jeremy Morgan was voted the Preseason Player of the Year. Morgan, McIntosh and Lee were joined on the preseason all-league first team by Wichita State forward Markis McDuffie, who was last year’s MVC Freshman of the Year, and Indiana State junior guard Brenton Scott.
Lee has been a three-year starter for the Redbirds at point guard. He was picked to the MVC All-Defensive Team the last two years and last season averaged a career-best 11.1 points. The 6-foot senior enters this season as the league’s active leader in assists (319) and steals (183).
“It’s no pressure,” said Lee of being on the all-league first team. “Either way, whether I’m on the team or not, there would be a target on my back because I’m a senior.”
Muller said Lee is the “kind of guy other coaches in the league think he’s been here for 14 years.”
“He’s ready to have a special year as a leader and on-court basketball wise,” said the ISU coach. “Obviously he’s one of the best defenders in the league and his offensive game continues to improve.”
The 6-7, 234-pound McIntosh was named captain of the MVC Most Improved Team last season after averaging 10.9 points and 4.8 rebounds.
“I put enough pressure on myself to be a good player anyway, to be the player I need to be,” said McIntosh of being on the preseason all-league first-team. “I’m happy to get it, but at same time I’m going out there and do what my team needs and do my best.”
McIntosh scored 20-plus points in four Valley games last season, including 25 twice. He reached double figures in each of ISU’s last 12 games.
“The coaches in the league respect if you get his best it’s pretty scary,” said Muller.
Even though Wichita State graduated Fred VanVleet and Ron Baker, the heart and soul of the last three MVC title teams who are now on NBA rosters, the Shockers still look pretty scary to Valley opponents.
“I’ve told these guys probably more than they want to hear it that they haven’t done anything,” said Wichita State coach Gregg Marshall. “This group has not done anything, so what are we going to do now? That’s the urgency with which we try to practice.”
Hawkins update: ISU junior forward Deontae Hawkins was arrested early Sunday morning and charged Monday with driving under the influence of alcohol, illegal transportation of alcohol and driving with a suspended license, according to McLean County court records.
The 23-year-old Hawkins is due in court for a pretrial hearing on Nov. 17.
Hawkins, who averaged 10.3 points and a team-high 5.8 rebounds last season, was indefinitely suspended Monday for a violation of team rules.
“The only thing I’ll say about that is disappointed, of course, and as usual we’ll keep it in house and get information out as we decide,” said Muller.
When asked if Hawkins will still be practicing with the team, Muller said, “We’re still gathering information. As of right now, nothing’s been decided.”
ISU has a closed scrimmage Sunday at Iowa before a Nov. 6 exhibition game against Quincy at Redbird Arena. The Redbirds open the season Nov. 11 at Murray State.