NORMAL — The turnaround for Illinois State's basketball team after its trip to Hawaii might be quick. That doesn't really bother David Ndiaye.
The 7-foot sophomore center is just happy to be playing again anytime, anywhere.
Ndiaye, who sat out the first nine games because of a stress fracture in his right foot, and ISU (8-4) open Missouri Valley Conference action at 7 p.m. Thursday against Evansville (9-4) at Redbird Arena.
"I'm really looking forward to it. Every game is important," said Ndiaye, who only played in two Valley games last year because of a stress fracture in his left foot. "I'm really excited to get out and see what we have out there. I have a lot of confidence in my team."
ISU left Honolulu on Sunday night after downing Tulsa, 68-56, in the Diamond Head Classic's third-place game. The Redbirds didn't arrive back on campus until late Monday afternoon.
After practicing twice on Tuesday, coach Dan Muller took his team on a bus to North Chicago on Wednesday morning for the funeral services of Del Yarbrough, a former Redbird standout in the late 1970s and the father of ISU junior Milik Yarbrough (who is sitting out this season as a transfer).
"It clearly was not even a decision. We were going no matter whenever the funeral was," said Muller, whose team practiced after returning Wednesday. "It was something we certainly would not miss for anything, so we'll be OK."
Ndiaye reported his foot was OK after playing in all three games in Hawaii as the Redbirds went 2-1. He was immediately called upon to play 17 minutes in the first game against Hawaii because of foul trouble and responded with four points, six rebounds and five blocks.
Getting so many minutes in his season debut "definitely" surprised Ndiaye.
"Coach always says be ready," he said. "That's what I love about this team. When someone is down there's always someone there to pick it up. I expected to play, but not that much."
Ndiaye believes it will take a couple more games for him to get in a rhythm with his teammates, especially on the offensive end. He made 3-of-8 field goal attempts and both free throws in Hawaii.
"They already had nine games by the time I got in," said Ndiaye. "Even though I picked up some things, there's still a lot of things I need to pick up. That's what we practice for."
Muller expects Ndiaye's presence on the defensive end will be more dramatic as he gets more action and experience.
"One thing that will improve ... will be his ability to read some shots a little quicker, stay on his feet on some shot fakes and protect the rim," said Muller. "We need to keep developing him in that regard. That's one dynamic that is nice to have."
Muller is pleased with ISU's defensive improvement. The Redbirds have held opponents to 32 percent field goal shooting in the last six games.
Evansville's motion offense should give the Redbirds a defensive test.
The Purple Aces lost a pair of two-year first-team all-MVC picks to graduation in guard D.J. Balentine and center Egidijus Mockevicius from last season's 25-9 squad which tied ISU for second place in the regular season and lost to UNI, 56-54, in the MVC Tournament championship game.
Jaylon Brown, a 6-foot senior guard, is the lone returner among the top six. But Brown has taken off, averaging a league-best 21.5 points per game.
"Last year was kind of a breakout year for him," said Evansville coach Marty Simmons. "He was pretty solid (averaging 10.8 ppg) and his confidence has continued to get better and better. He's relished the opportunity to step into a bigger role."
Brown and 6-6 sophomore guard Ryan Taylor (16.0 ppg), a transfer from Ohio University, have helped the Aces win their last seven games. However, Evansville is shorthanded as starting forward Willie Wiley (groin) and freshman reserve guard Dru Smith (knee) are out indefinitely.
"Everyone has stepped up a little bit and done a nice job," said Simmons. "We have not done anything differently, just different guys contributing."