Men's basketball set to start season on the road
The Southeast men’s basketball team will travel up the Mississippi to take on St. Louis University on Nov. 6 to open the season, with nine of 15 players on the roster having never seen Division I action.
Southeast had three starters transfer after last season, including First Team All-Ohio Valley Conference and leading scorer Denzel Mahoney. Even with the loss of Mahoney, Southeast coach Rick Ray feels the team is set up for success this season.
“This is probably our most talented team from top to bottom since I got here,” Ray said. “We’re practicing at seven o’clock in the morning, and our guys come in here, and they’re not sleep walking. They come in here ready to compete, and that’s all you can ask for.”
Last season, the team was prohibited from participating in the postseason, and was mandated to shift four of its 20 weekly practice hours to academic and retention efforts. These restrictions were in place because of the team’s four-year Academic Progress Rate score. The Redhawks will enter this season with zero practice restrictions and eligible for postseason play.
Among the leaders on the team is returning senior point guard Jonathan Dalton, who started 30 games last season. He led the team in minutes (32.2 per game), assists (5.4 per game) and steals (1.27 per game). Dalton ranked third in the OVC in assists, ninth in steals and 13th in minutes played.
Dalton has been vocal on the team, on both ends of the court. He said one improvement the team can make is in the area of consistent communication on defense.
“[Practices] have been awesome,” Dalton said. “I think, since my first year here, this has been the best, no doubt. I don’t think we’ve had a quiet practice yet. Last year, we were inconsistent and we would come into practice and start off slow. Every practice this year the energy’s been there, and guys are locked in and focused. The competitiveness has been the best.”
Redshirt freshman Kahlil Cuffee noticed a definite change in atmosphere from last season to this one.
“This year, we’re more together,” Cuffee said. “Everybody’s helping one another, everybody’s talking. There’s more energy, definitely. It’s just fun to be around each other. Everybody’s moving the ball.”
Cuffee also noted how competitive the practices have been, and how players banter.
“Guys go at it, they’re definitely competitive,” Cuffee said. “I like to do a lot of trash talking to get the best out of people. I go at Skylar [Hogan] all the time, I go at L.A. (Ledarrius Brewer) all the time. It’s just funny, you get the best out of people when you trash talk them, that’s just how it goes.”
Dalton believes the biggest obstacle for the Redhawks this season is inexperience.
“A lot of these guys have never played a college basketball game,” Dalton said. “Even if they were a redshirt last year, they’ve never played a college-level basketball game. So experience is that main thing, I feel like.”
The Redhawks added five freshmen, including forwards Gabe McGlothan and Sage Tolbert, and guards Nygal Russell, Jordan Love and Alex Caldwell. Southeast also added redshirt senior center Jack Lake and sophomore transfer Oscar Kao.
“The biggest thing we want those guys to come in with is just bring in a lot of enthusiasm and a lot of energy,” Ray said. “More importantly, they are willing to work and willing to listen. If they come with those two things, along with energy and enthusiasm, then they’re helping themselves, and more importantly, they’re helping the team.”
Even with the inexperience, Ray voiced confidence in his team’s ability to win games.
“I really like our team,” Ray said. “I think they’re really talented, and I think this is the deepest team that we’ve had. It just all will boil down to: Are we willing to sacrifice ourselves on the offensive end and are we willing to sacrifice ourselves on the defensive end by being a better defensive team? And that starts with us making sure that we’re talking and communicating defensively.”