First year head basketball coach Jim Boone will try to give that shot to the Delta State University Statesmen in the upcoming season, which is officially set to start on Tuesday when they host the Henderson State University Reddies at the Walter Sillers Coliseum at 7 p.m.
Boone has plans to get the Statesmen moving in the right direction after they went a dismal 6-21 last year. After a 4-2 start, DSU lost 19 of its final 21 games and its 1-13 mark in the GSC put the team last in the regular season standings.
Boone had to work at recruiting when he took over in April as he added seven new faces to the team.
“A big part of what we’ve done over the last six months is to create a culture,” Boone said. “For us, that has been changing a culture and creating a new culture. One that is founded in discipline, hard work, accountability and defense. We wanted to recruit young men that had those attributes, and I feel really good about the guys we have brought into our program.”
Boone is a seasoned coaching veteran in college basketball as he has a career coaching record of 438-328 over a 27-year career on the Division I and Division II levels. His most recent stint was at West Virginia Wesleyan College last year when he led the Bobcats to a 22-9 record with an appearance in the NCAA Tournament.
Last season was very uncharacteristic for the Statesmen as it marked just their second losing season over the last 21 years. Overall, the Statesmen have six Gulf South Conference titles with 14 appearances in the NCAA Division II Tournament.
Boone said DSU’s history attracted him to the program.
“It’s one of the reasons I’m here,” Boone said. “I’m so attracted to that that there is commitment and support for the basketball program to be successful. With commitment and support come high expectations, but that is what you want as a coach. I embrace that.
“I have certainly embraced our past and our tradition — the great players that have played here and the coaches that have coached here. We’ve been extremely fortunate to have a great deal of success. We want to build upon that success and foundation.”
According to Boone, the community support and interest he has received in regards to the program have been great. He says the fans want to know everything going on with the program and have a great interest in it.
“After having been here for six months, I’m just amazed and thrilled at the passion that our community and the people at Delta State have for our athletic programs,” Boone said. “I can’t go anywhere in Cleveland without some stopping me and recognizing me and wanting to know how we were doing. That’s great. I love it. It’s been a very busy six months, and it’s been an extremely enjoyable and exciting six months.”
To prepare for the season, Delta State played two Division I schools in a pair of exhibition games. The Statesmen lost to Mississippi Valley State University 62-59 and to Vanderbilt 69-48.
Boone said both games have really helped the team.
“I think our guys were at a point where they were kind of tired of beating up on each other, so it was really a great thing for us to have the opportunity to play the exhibitions,” Boone said. “We didn’t hold anything back in the teams we selected. I thought it was really good for us to go to Mississippi Valley to play in that environment which is awesome. It was a rivalry feel. Their team was well coached. Our kids played hard and their kids played hard. We couldn’t replicate that in practice.
“At Vanderbilt, playing a superior team in regards to athleticism, size and strength was good for us. Execution became a paramount of importance. I saw some very good things defensively. Offensively, we’re coming and that’s a work in progress.”
Boone said he has been particularly pleased in practice with senior forward Terry Leake and junior guard Cornell Knight, who saw the most playing time out of anybody returning from last season. Knight started all 27 games last year and averaged eight points, 5.4 rebounds and 2.6 assists per game, while Leake averaged 14 points and 4.4 rebounds a contest.
“They are two guys that have been a pleasure to work with and have stepped up,” Boone said. “They have quickly become two of our team leaders.”
Senior forwards Ryan Smith (3.7 ppg., 3.5 rpg.), John Hudson (1.9 ppg., 1.8 rpg.) and Matt Allbritton also return from last year. Allbritton was red-shirted last season.
Freshman guard Jack Madgen (Williamstown, Australia, Faith Lutheran Secondary School), freshman guard Brice Rowe (Madison, Ms., Madison Central High School) , junior guard Michael Weems (Milwaukee, Wis., Iowa Lakes, CC) and junior guard Ryan Fleming (Marietta, Ga., Gordon College) are new players that have shined in preparation for the year.
One thing that Boone is pleased is as far as the offense goes is DSU’s ability to shoot the basketball.
“We shoot it well,” Boone said. “We don’t shoot it great, but we shoot it well. Hopefully, as we progress through the season, we’ll shoot it better.”
Boone said the team needs to develop a strong inside game.
“Terry has given us an inside presence to a degree, but we need to get a little more help there,” Boone said.
Boone said the defense has also continued to develop day-in-and-day-out.
“We’re a man-to-man defensive team that relies 99.9 percent on our half court man-to-man defense,” Boone said. “I would hope that our strength is going to be our ability to guard the basketball, keep it out of the paint, force contested jump shots and rebound those shots.
“Our defense is still a work in progress to. In January and February our defense will be a major strength of our basketball team and a reason for our success.”