Feb 10, 2013
By Tom Weber
CARBONDALE, IL - Saluki senior point guard Kendal Brown-Surles admits he briefly considered transferring after last season.
His spirits were down after a tumultuous year in which Southern Illinois lost its last seven games, finished in ninth place, and the entire coaching staff was released. On top of that, the deposed Chris Lowery was more than just his head coach -- he was a blood relative.
"It was tough, because I've known Coach Lowery outside of basketball my entire life," he explained. "People were asking me if I'm going to go or stay. I've never quit a basketball team. Loyalty is really big in my family. I stayed."
Shortly after new head coach Barry Hinson arrived, Brown-Surles realized he'd made the right decision.
During a team meeting last summer, Hinson asked his players if they'd like to come over to his house and do some odd jobs. The 51-year-old veteran coach had just purchased a fixer-upper home in Carbondale.
"He asked if we wanted to put a little extra money in our pocket -- you help me, I'll help you," Brown-Surles recalled. "The guys were like, ok. We'll try it."
Soon, there was an army of Saluki basketball players at the house -- painting, repairing, doing yard work.
"It was hard work -- he had a ton of tree branches that had to be cut and fed into a chipper, there were big stones that needed to be dug out," Brown-Surles said. "Getting the whole team involved really brought us closer together. We went from being a team that was distant to becoming like brothers."
They also got to know Hinson's personality away from the basketball court.
"Working with him on his house built a bond, a trust level," Brown-Surles said. "We weren't really talking about basketball. We could talk about anything. It was fun how he embraced us and brought us in as his own. I would have done if for free just to have the experience with Coach Hinson and the team."
The Evansville native admits he was better at the yard work than jobs requiring more skilled labor.
"I found out I'm not the best stainer in the world," he laughed. "I basically butchered one of his doors. Mrs. Hinson said, `maybe that's not the job for you.'"
Looking back, Brown-Surles realized how important those summer days were for the team chemistry. The Salukis were a more cohesive unit before the first whistle was blown in October and left the gate with a surprising 7-4 non-conference record.
KBS was off to a good start, also, until he came down with strep throat and subsequently turned in a subpar tournament performance in Utah in December. Hinson called him out publicly, saying, "his stat line is awful, he doesn't guard. Until he can do something to help us, we're going to move in a different direction."
Outsiders might have suspected a major fault line developing between the head coach and his starting point guard. That was not the case. The foundation Hinson built with his players during the summer gave him the latitude to chastise his team, as needed.
"When he's mad or gives you criticism, he's doing it all for love," Brown-Surles said. "He's trying to help you get better. He'll put everything on the line for you and I feel like we should do the same. He doesn't ask for much from us -- energy, work hard and be coachable."
Brown-Surles rebounded from the disappointing pre-Christmas tournament and is putting up solid numbers in MVC games with a 2-to-1 assist-to-turnover ratio, while shooting 34 percent from 3-point. He is the active career leader at Southern in scoring (686 points), assists (266) and 3-pointers (117). Those aren't bad numbers for a player who was recruited in 2008 to back up Illinois Mr. Basketball Kevin Dillard at the point for SIU.
For a time, KBS admitted he was too worried about his personal statistics and what people were saying about him on message boards.
"I knew what I was getting into, coming in and being related to Coach (Lowery)," Brown-Surles said. "I knew that was going to be a topic. Those people are not in my shoes. Being a point guard is harder than people think. When everything gets helter-skelter, you have to bring the team back together. It's more than just playing when you're a point guard. I don't worry about my stats, like I did in my freshman and sophomore years. I'd rather get the ball where it needs to be and get it to my scorers and put them in position to do what they do best. The only statistic I look at now is that one point more than the opponent."
Although SIU has slipped into last place with a 2-11 record in conference games, Brown-Surles thinks the team is getting back some of the confidence it had earlier in the season. The Salukis upset Wichita State at home last week and nearly beat Indiana State on the road.
The Radio/TV major will be back with the team next fall as a student manager -- similar to what former player Matt Shaw has done for the team this season. Brown-Surles needs two classes to graduate, and those courses are not offered during the summer. He thought about using his fifth year of eligibility to play football for the Salukis next season, but decided coaching may be his future meal ticket.
"I would love to be a coach and part of a staff," he said. "Through the ups and downs of my career, I feel like I've learned a lot that I can teach players."