BY: Richard W. Humphrey
The first SMU men’s basketball game is less than five weeks away and practice opened this past Monday. The Ponies were 27-10 last year (12-6 in conference), good enough for third place in the American Athletic Conference and second in the National Invitational Tournament. They were ranked in four of the final regular season Top 25 polls, their first ranking since the 1984-85 season.
The 27 wins were second most in school history trailing the 28-7 record during the 1987-88 season. 18 of those wins came at home, 12 of which were won in Moody Coliseum. Nine of the 13 Moody Coliseum games were sellouts, and the Mustangs set a new home attendance record of 107,412. That record will undoubtedly last only a year, as this year’s Mustangs have 18 home games scheduled in Moody, all of which are already sold out.
The Mustangs return 10 players from last year’s team. Point guard Nic Moore was first team All-AAC as he led the team in scoring (13.4 points per game) and assists (4.9). Center Markus Kennedy was second team All-AAC as he led the team in rebounding (7.1 per game) and was second in scoring with 12.4 PPG. Both made the All-NIT team.
Three other returning Mustangs played internationally this summer. Yanick Moreira played for Angola in FIBA World Cup in Spain. Sophomores Ben Moore and Sterling Brown played for the Global Sports Academy U. S. team in the Goodwill Tour. They played games in England, Belgium, Germany and the Netherlands.
Brown is pleased with Moreira, who has obviously gained some needed weight. “He’s healthy You know last year, the second half of the year, he never was healthy. He’s come back. His attitude has been great. He’s working hard.”
Seniors Ryan Manuel and Cannen Cunningham also return along with sophomore Keith Frazier. The newcomer that will see a lot of playing time is transfer Justin Martin, who graduated from Xavier. He averaged 11.7 points and 5.2 rebounds per game last season for XU.
“He’s played for a great program and a great coach,” Brown said. “He’s another guy I’m trying to figure out how to use him. We need every able body we have especially guys that can play multiple positions.” He likes Martin’s experience. “He’s been to two NCAA Tournaments, so he’s obviously played big games. He just wants to be coached. That’s the fun part.”
Brown did scoff at the notion that SMU is the favorite to win the conference. “I doubt we’ll be the conference favorite with the National Champs in our conference. It really doesn’t matter what people think. We just gotta come to practice every day and get better. We owe it to our fans. We owe it to the school. We want to be a special program and that’s what we strive for every day. We write the same thing on the board every day. ‘Play hard, play together, play smart, have fun’. It’d be nice if we defended and rebounded.”
It’s Brown’s third year. He says he thinks the team is more comfortable with each other and what’s expected of them. As for the NIT experience last year, he said, “We got to play in a great tournament against quality teams. When you played five games like we did in the NIT against good teams, you get that practice time. It’s gotta help. I think you’ve got to build on it. We were all disappointed that we didn’t win every game. The reality is that we’re getting better. The excitement for me is the kids are excited and want to get better.”
One key to the season is the eligibility of transfer Ben Emelogu, the Grand Prairie native that transfered from Virginia Tech. The paper work has been filed with the NCAA to waive having to sit out this season. He’s a point guard and will have three seasons of eligibility remaining.
The Mustangs are stocked with quality players at every position, except there is little depth at point guard after Nic Moore. Ryan Manuel and Ben Moore are the two primary candidates for back-up point guard. They can buy a few minutes on the bench for Moore, but if there was an injury or an early foul-out, the Mustangs would be in trouble. Adding Emelogu to the roster will provide the depth at literally every position.
Brown thinks November 14 (the season opener) will get here too quickly. He wishes there was more preparation time. That’s a coach for you. For fans like us, especially in view of this painful football season, November 14 can’t get here soon enough.
AND ALSO: The SMU men’s and Women’s basketball teams will be at the State Fair of Texas tomorrow, October 13. They will sign autographs on the Midway from 12:00 – 1:00, and there will be on-court contests throughout the day. There will be an SMU-branded red and blue basketball court on Lone Star Boulevard ouside the Texas Hall of State. The on-court contests will begin at 10:30 AM.