TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — Dom Johnson and Boo Richardson probably would have run all the way down here. That’s how eager they are to finally play a Division I basketball game.
Yet Illinois State’s pair of junior college transfer guards has been told this fact of life by Coach Porter Moser:
There is no rule against guards getting some of the rebounds.
“The last couple weeks he’s been preaching to us to rebound down (low),” said Johnson. “As guards we can’t put it all on the big men. We have to stick our noses in there.”
ISU receives a “big” test to start the season today. The Redbirds face one of the tallest teams on their schedule when they meet Southern Methodist and new coach Matt Doherty at 4 p.m. to open the Colonial Classic at the Donald L. Tucker Center.
SMU center Donatas Rackauskas, a 6-foot-11 Lithuanian, is backed up by 7-1 Bamba Fall of Senegal. Throw in 6-8 Ike Ofoegbu, 6-8 freshman Cameron Spencer and the Mustangs’ best rounder, 6-6 Devon Pearson, and the Redbirds’ emphasis on being an up-tempo team will be stalled without grabbing their share of boards.
During ISU’s 83-58 exhibition victory against Division II Missouri-St. Louis 11 days ago, neither Johnson nor Richardson snagged a rebound.
“Rebounding has been something we as coaches have been concerned over,” said Moser, who is 3-0 in season openers at ISU. “We’ve got to get our guards to rebound down and get our post guys to put up bigger rebounding numbers. That’s something we’re going to talk about all year.
“You have to get stops and rebounds so you can outlet it.”
If the Redbirds heed Moser’s advice, then it could be SMU which is in trouble.
Doherty, who was ousted as coach from his alma mater North Carolina in 2003, has resurfaced on the national scene in Dallas after spending a season at Florida Atlantic. Doherty said he purposely watched tape of only one SMU game last season, and that was just a half to look at a player from another team who wanted to transfer.
Evidently, Doherty has formed his own opinion. Jon Killen, a 6-4 junior, has taken over as the Mustangs’ point guard ahead of last year’s starter, 6-foot Dez Willingham.
While the SMU backcourt of Killen and 6-4 Derrick Roberts towers over the 6-foot Johnson and 5-8 Richardson, the Redbirds’ guards have other advantages.
“My main concern is depth and probably press offense,” said Doherty. “We’re maybe not the quickest team at the lead guard spot. If people get into us, we’re really going to have to execute our offense and trust it.
“Press offense is hard to simulate in practice. You’re second unit is not going to be as quick as the first unit of any Division I team you face.”
Moser hopes pushing the ball in practice has helped ISU’s conditioning for the next three days. The Redbirds also face host Florida State Monday and McNeese State Tuesday.
“Everyone on our team needs to contribute and come out and give us good minutes,” said Richardson. “Three days and 40 minutes a night. It’s tough playing back to back (to back), trying to get rest and going over scouting reports in the morning. Conditioning will play a big part.”
The Redbirds had only one exhibition game. However, ISU held a closed practice with Iowa last Sunday that might have been more beneficial.
Moser treated the trip to Iowa City like a road game to get his six newcomers acclimated to how things are done. The Redbirds left a day early, stayed overnight and had team meals together. Four of ISU’s first five games, including Nov. 25 at St. John’s, are away from home.
“With this many new guys, how fast we come together is going to be key to how we do,” said Moser. “We have great chemistry off the court. But on the court, when you blend in this many new guys it takes time.”
Only seniors Greg Dilligard and Ronnie Carlwell and junior center Levi Dyer were on the roster two years ago when the Redbirds started their season with three games at the Marquette Tournament in Milwaukee. ISU went 2-1, beating Penn State and Mississippi while losing to Marquette.
If ISU wins today, that would mean one more victory away from Redbird Arena than last season. ISU went 0-12 in road and neutral site games en route to a 9-19 campaign.
Illinois State vs.
Time: 4 p.m.
Site: Donald L. Tucker Center, Tallahassee, Fla.
Radio: WJBC-AM (1230)
Records: First game for both teams
Series history: SMU leads 1-0 (won 68-58 on Dec. 14, 1985).
Coaches: ISU’s Porter Moser has a 36-50 record in his three seasons and a 90-84 record in six seasons as a head coach. SMU coach Matt Doherty is in his first season with the Mustangs and is 90-71 in five seasons with Notre Dame, North Carolina and Florida Atlantic.
About the Mustangs: Southern Methodist is a member of Conference USA and was picked to finish eighth in the 12-team league in a preseason coaches’ poll. Derrick Roberts is SMU’s leading returning scorer (10.7 points per game), while Devon Pearson averaged 10.6 points and a team-high 8.3 rebounds. SMU will bring in 7-foot-1, 210-pound sophomore Bamba Fall, a native of Senegal, off the bench. Fall played only 18 games as a freshman, but blocked 53 shots. The Mustangs downed Houston Baptist 70-51 in their lone exhibition game as Pearson led the way with 16 points and 11 rebounds. SMU assistant coach Lance Irvin was a former ISU assistant coach under Tom Richardson.
Next up: ISU meets host Florida State on Monday in the Colonial Classic at Tallahassee.