Q & A with Saluki head coach Chris Lowery
By Tom Weber
Saluki Media Services
With practices beginning Saturday, I sat down recently with Saluki head coach Chris Lowery for a preseason Q & A. First, I asked him to update the progress of each player. Here are his responses.
On Justin Bocot:
“I think Justin’s greatest asset heading into this season is his experience. He’s had highs and lows in our program. Now it’s time for him to settle into being a consistently good player for us. He probably had his best off-season. He played a lot of basketball. Some of our new players challenged him and it was great for him heading into his senior year.”
On Kendal Brown-Surles:
“Kendal needs to continue to grow as a player. I think you’ll see him shoot the basketball at a much better clip and feel comfortable enough to move without the ball in motion. We’ve gotten back to doing a lot of motion stuff, and he’s done a great job in it. He’s very fast, can shoot the basketball and we have to use his ability to move around and makes shots the way we did late last season.”
On Davante Drinkard:
“We’re planning on redshirting him. He needs to continue to grow as a player. He can’t just be a big kid and that’s it. He’s making tremendous strides in the weight room, his body is bigger, and he’s making strides as a player. But at this point, it’s a similar situation to when Brad Korn redshirted as a sophomore. Brad had to play because we needed him as a freshman, but then we redshirted him for the long term. That’s what we plan to do with Davante for the good of the program and for him to develop as a student-athlete.”
On Mamadou Seck:
“I think you’re going to see Seck’s game continue to grow. With the weight and strength he added in the weight room, I think you’ll see him do more things on both ends of the floor. He spent a lot of time in the gym by himself this summer, shooting and working on his game. He’s our most disciplined guy, a throwback to some of our good teams where they were determined to get better each year.”
On Diamond Taylor:
“Diamond is a terrific talent. Having a year off and not playing organized basketball for a year and a half hurt him. The thing that surprised us last year was how good of a defender he was, and yet he struggled offensively. While he was sitting out, we really made him guard people. We didn’t need him to score for us in practice. I think his all-around game will show from the beginning this year. Also, he’s worked on his body and when you see him take the floor this year, you’ll see how much his body has improved. ”
On Tony Bryer:
“He had an up and down summer, but overall, he made tremendous strides. He’s long and athletic. He’s very cerebral. I think all of our freshmen are smart on the floor. After we explain something to Tony, he’s immediately able to do it the right way. He definitely has to get stronger, but he has intangibles. He has a 7-foot wingspan. He gets off the floor. He’s a quiet kid. He won’t say much, but his game will speak for itself.”
On Dantiel Daniels:
“Dantiel is a pleaser. He wants to please the coaching staff, he wants to please his teachers. He is a workaholic. He wants to get better by hard work, not just by showing up. He’s going to be a fan favorite. He plays hard, he’s emotional, he wants to please people. He’s very explosive off the ground, very athletic. He’s not as big as some of our other front-court players, but he’s similar in that he’s coming in here to play and it doesn’t matter how he gets on the floor.”
On Jeff Early:
“He looks unorthodox at times, but he plays so hard. He’ll fill up the stat sheet with things he does, from taking charges to diving on the floor, to playing defense, to guarding bigger people. He lives for those moments and those challenges. Before we watched him play, the first thing everybody said about him was that the guy is high energy and very enthusiastic. He’s emotional. Those are things our fans definitely need to see.”
On Kourtney Goff:
“He’s a walk-on who wanted to be a Saluki. He’s like the rest of our recruiting class, he remembers the good years at SIU and wants to get us back to that. He’s a hard worker. He’s very well put together. He’s going to push our kids every day. He’s been a pleasant surprise for us. We didn’t know how good he was. The things he’s done so far have been great.”
On Desmar Jackson:
“Desmar is a natural scorer who can score on anybody — small guys, big guys, it doesn’t matter. He can score from many different spots and angles on the court. The key for him is his game has to evolve to where he plays with his team. It can’t be a situation where we need him to score every possession. I think that’s the biggest challenge for him as he blends into our team.”
On T.J. Lindsay:
“T.J. is a guy who just flat-out won at the junior college level. He’s been that steady force behind a program that won 60 games in two years. There’s a place for guys who win all the time. He is extremely fast. That’s what people will notice about him right away. He’s very fast for a guy with his length. We think he’ll be able to push the basketball and defend at a high level. We know he’ll make some mistakes early, but he’s an extremely coachable kid. We’re going to put a lot of pressure on him to make us go early. ”
On Treg Setty:
“Treg is still kind of an enigma for us. We won’t know what he can do, who he can and can’t guard, until we get into the guts of practice. We know he can handle the ball. We know he can make shots. We know he’s 6-foot-9. After that, we don’t know all that he can do. He’s still trying to figure it out himself. Some days he falls down, some days he doesn’t. He’s still growing into his body.”
On Josh Swan:
“Josh is a terrific kid and a hard worker. He’s done a great job since he got here. For Josh, competing at a high level every day was a shock for him early. Now, he’s starting to understand that ‘I’m good enough to be here.’ He’s a kid who scored a bunch of points in high school, and now he’s being asked to do a bunch of other things. He’s handled that very well and in a way that we didn’t expect.”
On Harry Whitt:
“He’s a young man who enjoys being a student-athlete. He’s embraced everything about it. He’s a member of the Student-Athlete Advisory Committee. He’s already tutoring other freshmen. He wants to be an Academic All-American. That’s very important to him and his parents. I think people will be surprised how skilled this kid is. He also has a mean-streak in him. He’s not going to be soft. When we signed him, he was pretty thin, but now he’s up to 220 pounds. We’ll see if he can maintain that during the day-to-day grind of practice.”
Q&A with Coach Lowery
With a roster that has nine new players, are you starting to get a feel yet for the personality of this team?
I think we’re going to be more athletic. I think we’re going to make mistakes early because we’re going to be aggressive and attack. I want it to be that way. We need to get back to making this a tough place to play. We’ve talked about no more free-ins, letting guys walk the ball up, get it to the wing, run their offense and do what they want. No more free-ins.
Who are the leaders on this team?
Without a doubt, Seck is. He ran open gyms this summer. If a guy was late for open gym, he wouldn’t let him play. That’s old-school stuff that made us special. He understands what we need from him, he’s embraced it and done it. We haven’t had that since Bryan (Mullins). Seck understood that this has to change, and it starts with me. What helped is the guys we brought in love playing. We had some heated games. We had physical play and games meant more this summer.
Looking at the stats, two key areas where the team struggled last year were assist-to-turnover ratio and 3-point shooting. How do you improve those deficiencies and do you have the personnel to do that?
I think there’s a bunch of things we can do to fix those problems. We want to get 20 points per game in transition. That’s where you gain confidence as a shooter, by getting layups and easy baskets. Secondly, we have to get to the free throw line more. When you don’t get to the line, you’re relying on guys shooting shots who shouldn’t shoot them. With the 3-point percentage, the right guys have to shoot them. Looking at the big picture, that was the only team I’ve ever coached where a guard didn’t average double figures. We didn’t threaten our opponent from those positions. I completely take ownership for that. That’s going to change this year because of how we play. We’re going to get our guards opportunities for easy buckets.
After a 13-19 season, what do you say to the fan base to get them excited about this program?
What I would say to our fans is you can look forward to seeing our new personnel. We have upgraded our team athletically. Our fans are used to seeing our guards control the game up front on both sides of the ball and play hard. We haven’t played that way, but we’re going to play hard and cause havoc again, and I think our fans will embrace the program again. They just want to see you try. We had too many efforts where the jersey wasn’t the most important thing. You’re going to see guys playing very hard for SIU.
How much do you expect to rely on your five true freshmen? Looking at the numbers, it appears some of them will get to play right away.
There are going to be minutes for them. We have to get them ready. One thing about this group of young kids is that they’re working very hard. These kids care about their mile times, their conditioning goals. They have embraced the boot-camp mentality. They hold each other accountable. We’re really excited about this freshman class.
You mentioned in the summer how Treg Setty has taken it upon himself to organize the freshman class. Is that still the case?
He’s very unique. He communicates better than any freshman I’ve ever known. He communicates by phone, by text, by tweeting, by Facebook. He tweeted me last week, thanking me for this freshman class and how they are all like brothers. That’s great for him to say that already about their class. I’ve noticed on campus they are usually together and have great camaraderie. It’s usually because of him.
Of your five freshmen, only one is a guard. How is Josh Swan’s development so far?
We feel like we can trust Josh early on. As we get closer to our first exhibitions, Josh is going to play a lot. I’m happy with his approach to basketball. He’s mature enough to understand that college is serious business. He wants to build a portfolio for himself, for his parents, for his coaching staff. He gets it. We can envision him being a big part of our program.
Will T.J. Lindsay primarily play point guard?
That’s definitely where he’ll get the most playing time, but he’s big enough to do other things, too. Before we had Bryan Mullins, we didn’t really have a true point guard and it didn’t matter who brought the ball up. We had guys like Kent (Williams), Darren (Brooks), Stetson (Hairston). They weren’t conventional point guards. T.J. is along those lines in that he can combo, though he’ll play more 1 than 2.
You’ve mentioned how much improvement certain players made in the weight room. Are you pleased with the overall conditioning of the team?
Justin Cortez has had a great fall working with our players. He’s a guy from my high school. Coach (Rodney) Watson recommended him to us. He’s really embraced getting our guys back to where they needed to be. We haven’t looked physically like we used to look. We showed our guys pictures and film of our better teams, when we bulldozed and attacked. We were known as being one of the most physically fit teams in the country. That’s something I really wanted to get back to with this team.