NORMAL — Zach Copeland and Matt Chastain are doing their parts to help Illinois State's basketball team get headed in the right direction. They just can't do it on game days.
Still, that hasn't stopped Redbird coach Dan Muller from recognizing their efforts — and looking forward to seeing them on the court in November.
Copeland and Chastain, a LeRoy High School graduate, are sitting out as transfers and can't play per NCAA rules. However, they are allowed to practice with ISU. One of their main responsibilities is playing on the scout team to get the Redbirds ready for their next opponent.
In an unusual step, Muller has Copeland and Chastain join Phil Fayne and Keyshawn Evans during the captains' meeting with referees before games at Redbird Arena.
"It's a huge honor (for transfers). Unfortunately, it's a little bit of a statement about our players who are eligible. But they earned it and just play with toughness," said Muller. "They're both everyday guys and are unbelievably coachable. They just play hard."
Copeland, a 6-foot-4, 190-pound guard from Oakland, Calif., was hoping to play this season with ISU after signing in the spring out of City College of San Francisco. He went through summer individual workouts with the Redbirds.
However, Copeland didn't earn his associate's degree to become eligible. But he stayed in the Twin Cities, paying his own rent and getting a job while doing online courses. He obtained his degree in December and was allowed to join the Redbirds in practice while being put on scholarship for second semester.
"I'm happy to be finally on the team and practicing," said Copeland, who will have two years of eligibility with ISU. "It's been fun learning the system."
Copeland didn't play or practice much for four months before joining the team in mid-December. But Muller said it didn't take long for Copeland, who averaged 18.7 points per game while shooting 47.7 percent outside the arc at CCSF last season, to show he will be an impact player immediately for the Redbirds.
"He's such a hard worker and so tough he got in shape in probably four days," said the ISU coach. "He's very skilled. He can shoot it, handle it and play multiple positions. He guards, he's smart and tough, and he's really competitive."
Chastain, a 6-6 swingman, was a freshman at Loyola last season after leading LeRoy to the Class 1A State title while averaging 26 points and eight rebounds. However, Chastain suffered an ACL tear for the second time in his left knee during his third game with the Ramblers and was lost for the season.
He decided to transfer to ISU in the spring. Because Loyola didn't grant his release to a fellow Missouri Valley Conference school, Chastain is paying his own way this school year and can be put on scholarship starting next season.
Muller said ISU has been careful not to push Chastain too hard during practices, holding him out of certain drills, but he is encouraged by his progress.
"I still think I have a ways to go until I feel personally like I should be where I'm at, but it feels really good," said Chastain.
Muller also sees Chastain, who will have three years of eligibility with ISU, being able to play a couple different positions. Chastain is up to 200 pounds, about 20 more than he was at LeRoy, and would like to reach at least 210 before next season.
"I think my shot needs to get better. The coaches have helped me and it's on the way to being better," he said. "Definitely ballhandling is something they've stressed to me. I'm trying to work on my knowledge of the game and knowing what to do and when and where, and strength as well."
Copeland and Chastain try to give the Redbirds the look of a certain player on the next opponent while on the scout team in practice. For Copeland, that means mimicking the top perimeter scorer.
When ISU was preparing to play Indiana State, Copeland served as Jordan Barnes.
"He kind of killed us in practice for two days. It was very realistic," said Muller.
Copeland said he likes that role. There are other things Copeland is working on for next season.
"I feel I need to get quicker and stronger and improve my IQ on the court," he said.
Chastain's scout-team role often involves being the opponent's top front court threat. When ISU faced Missouri State, Chastain turned into Alize Johnson.
"The big thing they do for us in practice is they are both very competitive and each of them has a high level of toughness," said Muller. "Unfortunately at times, they're our toughest players in practice."