With the dark clouds of NCAA sanctions nearly gone, optimism abounds around the Southern Miss men’s basketball team.
“We want to win right now,” third-year USM coach Doc Sadler said today.
And with five of their top seven scorers from last season returning, the Golden Eagles just might do it.
“We’ve had 17 practices and, for the most part, all of them have been pretty good,” Sadler said.
This is Sadler’s third year at the helm of the Southern Miss basketball team. The first two, which went on during an NCAA investigation of former coach Donnie Tyndall’s regime, ended with records of 9-20 and 8-21.
Penalties have been imposed and USM is still down in scholarships, including three more in the future, but this year’s team consists of 17 players, 10 of whom are on scholarship, and 15 of whom are eligible to play.
Seniors Raheem Watts, Michael Ramey, Quinton Campbell and Khari Price return, although Price — a 5-foot-9 guard who was second in scoring last year with a 9.6-point average — will be out for an undetermined amount of time due to a knee injury.
Watts is a 6-7 forward who averaged 7.5 points and 3.1 rebounds last season, Ramey is a 6-5 guard who averaged 5.5 points and Campbell is a 6-7 guard-forward who averaged 6.7 points and 3.3 rebounds.
“Our season depends on our four seniors and what they do,” Sadler said.
That’s fine with them.
“Our ultimate goal is to win the conference tournament,” Ramey said. “Last year we couldn’t play in the postseason (due to a self-imposed penalty). That might have hurt us getting ready to play. We can play for a championship now. Everybody is ready to play.”
Southern Miss lost its leading scorer from a year ago, Kourtlin Jackson, who averaged 14.5 points and 4.6 rebound, due to graduation. Keljin Blevins, who averaged 5.8 points and 3.4 rebounds, is also gone.
But other returnees include 6-7 forward Eddie Davis III, who averaged 9.4 points and a team-leading 5.7 rebounds last season, 6-11 forward Tim Rowe, 6-0 guard Robert Thomas III and 6-2 guard Cortez Edwards. Kevin Holland, a 6-1 guard who played two years ago, also is back.
“We don’t have the biggest team,” Watts said. “We’re looking for Tim Rowe to do big things for us. Our other forwards are very versatile. We can stay outside and shoot the 3.”
Sadler’s first two teams have been known for their effort on the court and for coming up with the occasional upset.
This year, the Eagles want more.
“We’re trying to be the best defensive team,” Watts said.
Sadler said that he has been impressed by newcomer Bilal Abdur-Rahim, a 6-7 guard out of Colby (Kan.) Community College.
“He has been the biggest surprise because of how quick he has picked things up,” Sadler said.
Southern Miss will host two exhibition games, Nov. 3 against Mississippi College and Nov. 7 against William Carey, before opening the regular season Nov. 11 against Tougaloo.
The Golden Eagles will play a tough non-conference schedule against the likes of LSU, South Alabama, Florida State, Tulane, Mississippi State (in Jackson) and San Diego State.
The Conference USA season will begin Jan. 1 at home against Louisiana Tech.