November 2, 2000
With the regular-season opener just two weeks away, Southern Illinois University's basketball Salukis will make their first appearance of the 2000-2001 campaign Saturday evening (Nov. 4) in a 5:30 p.m. exhibition game against the Denmark Bears in the SIU Arena.
Coach Bruce Weber's third SIU squad includes just two starters returning from last year's 20-13 team which advanced to the second round of the National Invitation Tournament.
However, in addition to the two holdover starters -- Kent Williams and Brandon Mells -- the Salukis have seven other lettermen returning including seniors Abel Schrader and Joshua Cross, both of whom have logged more than 1200 minutes of playing time in three previous seasons at SIU.
Also available is red-shirted freshman Sylvester Willis, incoming freshmen Darren Brooks and Josh Warren along with junior college transfers Marcus Belcher (Moberly Area C.C.), Tyrese Buie (Highland C.C.) and Toshay Harvey (Kilgore C.C.).
"Practice has been going fairly well overall," Weber said, "but there are some rough spots as expected at this time of the season. We're just hoping our players have an opportunity to get a feel for one another in this first game and then we'll attach a little more importance to the next exhibition game."
Weber is expecting to open with Williams, last year's leading scorer with a 13.3 ppg average, along with veterans Schrader and Cross and sophomore Dearman. His fifth starter will probably be one of a group of four including Willis, Harvey, Buie and Belcher.
"We'll make every effort to play everyone," Weber said, "although we haven't made final decisions regarding a couple of players as to whether they may be red-shirted this season. As long as there's a possibility of them sitting out this year, we won't be using them in the exhibition games."
In addition to Williams' team-leading 440-point performance last season, seven other Saluki players scored more than 200 points, a first time ever at SIU. Four of the seven -- Schrader (264), Mells (241), Cross (219) and Dearman (204) -- are among the returnees.
"I don't believe there's any question about the fact that we'll have more quality depth this season," Weber said. "I like that and the overall athleticism that the group has shown, but our size is not particularly impressive and someone will have to step up to provide on-the-court leadership that we lost with the departure of seniors Chris Thunell, Ricky Collum and Derrick Tilmon."
The other major concern of Weber is SIU's schedule itself. The Salukis' first three games are against teams that defeated SIU last season. Following those outings with Long Beach State, Saint Louis University and Ball State, the Salukis will run up against Indiana's Hoosiers in their first road game of the season. They also will meet Southeast Missouri State, Murray State, Mississippi and possibly USC before opening Missouri Valley Conference play Jan. 2.
Following this week's opener, SIU will host an AAU team Friday (Nov. 10).