Oct. 13, 2000
At first glance, one may be concerned when considering SIU's chances of duplicating last year's 20-13 record, third-place finish in the Missouri Valley Conference and berth in the National Invitation Tournament.
Only two starters are returning from the 1999-2000 squad which some feel over-achieved in winning 20 games and defeating the likes of UMass, UNC Charlotte and Colorado.
And, one of the two returnees was only a freshman last season albeit one of the league's most decorated individuals as he claimed both 'Freshman of the Year' and 'Newcomer of the Year' honors.
The now-sophomore stand- out is Kent Williams who turned in one of the most remarkable seasons of any true freshman in SIU's history.
Williams led the Salukis in scoring with 440 becoming only the second freshman ever to do so. And despite the fact he will be more of a marked player this season, coaches feel he will be returning to the court a stronger and more seasoned performer.
The other returning starter is junior Brandon Mells, who along with Williams, will be taking care of SIU's ball-handling chores.
Mells broke into the Salukis' starting lineup in the fifth game of the season and remained as he led the club in assists with a 3.5 per game average.
In addition to the two starters, the Salukis are returning a pair of seniors in Abel Schrader and Joshua Cross, both of whom are well-known around the MVC.
Schrader actually started 22 games as a sophomore and was the team's fifth-leading scorer with an even 8.0 average last season.
Cross was the leading vote-getter in balloting for the league's 'All-Bench' team and captained that group as a result. Although consistency has been somewhat of a problem for the versatile Cross, he may be one of the most explosive and athletic players in the league.
Two other sophomores -- Jermaine Dearman and Brad Korn -- are certain to be key players in the Saluki picture this season as well.
Dearman scored 204 points as a freshman and was one of eight players to top the 200-point mark for the Salukis last season. He was honored with a spot on the MVC's all-freshman team.
In addition to the returnees, there are six newcomers, including three transfers, who are expected to wage serious battles for playing time as the season progresses.
Included are Toshay Harvey, who played at Kilgore C.C. two years ago, Marcus Belcher (Moberly Area C.C.) and Tyrese Buie (Highland C.C.)
While experienced and proven players, all may have difficulty in moving ahead of Sylvester Willis, a red-shirted freshman with the Salukis last year who may prove to be SIU's surprise of the season. He's strong, quick and talented.
Rounding out the squad are two true freshmen, 6-8 Josh Warren and 6-3 Darren Brooks. Both are capable of contributing in their first season with the Salukis.
Other returning lettermen include David Carney, Chris Drew and Jason Ward. Even though none of the three saw a lot of playing time last season, all will provide needed squad depth this year.
Weber, although concerned about the strength of his schedule, is pleased with one aspect.
SIU's first three games are at home and all against teams the Salukis lost to last season -- Long Beach State, Saint Louis U. and Ball State.
The plus, however, may be neutralized by SIU's first road game of the season. It's Dec. 2 and at Indiana with an appearance at Southeast Missouri State to follow three nights later.