With new Southern Miss basketball coach Jay Ladner featuring deep ties on the Coast, you’d be right to assume that he wants to end the Golden Eagles’ 11-year drought of playing games in Biloxi.
While a regular season game at the Mississippi Coast Coliseum appears out of the question for the 2019-20 campaign, USM seems on track play a exhibition contest in Biloxi ahead Ladner’s first season as the USM head coach.
Ladner, who coached at St. Stanislaus in Bay St. Louis before starting his college coaching career, said Thursday during an event with fans at the Sunkist Country Club that he is in talks with Ole Miss to play a preseason game at the Coast Coliseum before the season starts in early November.
“I talked with (Ole Miss coach Kermit Davis) and he is all for it,” Ladner said. “It’s late so we’ve got a lot of details to work out. I’m not in a position to say we are in fact going to do it this year, but everybody is on the same page to do it.”
Ladner said that Coast Coliseum executive director Matt McDonnell is also supportive of the idea and the two plan to meet on the topic on Friday.
Following the mass shootings earlier this month that claimed 31 lives in El Paso, Texas, and Dayton, Ohio, the NCAA has cleared Division I programs to schedule exhibition games that will raise funds for those communities. One example is a UTEP-Texas Tech exhibition contest set for Oct. 12 in El Paso.
Ladner hopes that the exhibition contest with Ole Miss, which last played USM in Biloxi in 2008, will be the first of many games for the Golden Eagles at the Coliseum.
“The Coast is critical to us,” Ladner said. “We’re laying groundwork to play a game here each year — Tulane, Louisiana-Lafayette, South Alabama, Ole Miss, Alabama. I think there’s people that want to come to the Coast. It’s a neat place to be and the arena is nice. Talking with Matt, he let me know about all the upgrades they have going on with the scoreboard. It’s a first class deal. I can tell you USM is committed to playing basketball on the Coast.”
USM announced a pair of signees in late July and early August with the additions of 6-foot-5 guard Angel Smith of Fort Lauderdale, Fla., and 6-6 forward Artur Konontsuk of Estonia.
The two players will help fill the gaps left by the transfer of sophomore point guard Shakur Daniels and the departure of redshirt senior center Tim Rowe, who did not rejoin the team for practices after Ladner was hired away from Southeastern Louisiana in April.
Ladner believes Smith, who drew offers from Kansas State and Old Dominion, will be an impact player in Hattiesburg.
“I find it hard to believe that Southern Miss has had a player as highly regarded as him out of high school,” Ladner said. “He’s 6-5 and he comes from an outstanding program. We have a great relationship with the staff there and his AAU program. He’s a big, long, tough guard that can really shoot. He’s got a beautiful shooting touch. I think he’s got a chance, when all is said and done, to be one of the better players to every play at Southern Miss.”
In Konontsuk, Ladner believes he has found a key piece to his team.
“I probably put a little too much pressure on him, but he reminds me of Kiki VanDeWeghe, “Ladner said. “He’s a big, long, athletic forward that can step out and shoot the three. He’s basically a bigger player that plays like a guard.”
Running the point
USM’s most important spot to fill in the lineup is at point guard following the graduation of Tyree Griffin, but Ladner likes what he has seen in Southwest Mississippi Community College transfer Jay Malone.
“If we had to start today, I’d start Jay Malone at the point,” he said. “He really grew on me. At Southeastern Louisiana, we were 40 miles from (SMCC) and we recruit that school heavily. I wasn’t sold on him. He and I had a strong talk early on about what I needed from him and what we expected. He’s been the biggest surprise. His level of play and his ability have never been in question. He’s gotten better as a quarterback for the team and a leader. I’m excited about his progress.”