April 20, 2004
By Seth Whitehead
www.SIUSalukis.com - Rebuilding projects are always tough. No question.
And whether your rebuilding an engine, home or a team - experience goes a long way towards getting the job done right.
The Southern Illinois University women's basketball program is no exception.
Enter Dana Eikenberg, who was introduced Tuesday as the seventh head coach in the program's 44-year history.
Rebuilding programs? Eikenberg's been there, done that.
Eikenberg took over a fledgling University of Missouri-Kansas City program four years ago, transforming a team that went just 2-25 her first year into a squad that went 15-14 this past season. It was the Kangaroo's first winning campaign in 11 years.
Eikenberg inherits an eerily similar situation at SIU. The Salukis finished just 3-24 last season and haven't had a winning season in eight years.
Don't think that SIU Athletic director Paul Kowalczyk didn't take note of those similarities when Eikenberg's resume came across his desk.
It's just one reason why he's confident Eikenberg can work her magic again in Carbondale.
"She's committed to getting the job done and recapturing the tradition, the glory and the pride of our Cindy Scott teams of the 80s and 90s," Kowalczyk said. "Dana has a plan. She has the work ethic. She can recruit like nobody's business. And she's gaining a reputation as a program builder.
"Our women's basketball program is in need of someone with the energy, the intensity, the drive and the passion to turn it around. We wanted someone who had sound values, who understands their role as a teacher, has an excellent coaching background, Midwestern ties and someone that would be a good fit.
"I believe we found all of that in Dana - and more."
So the real question: What would attract Eikenberg to another rebuilding project? Especially considering she left a team many consider a contender for the Mid Continent Conference title next year.
"What lured me here was probably the gentleman sitting to my right," Eikenberg said, referring to Kowalczyk. "As a coach, you've got to have that relationship with the man who's got his finger on the pulse.
"I felt Paul's vision was very clear, not only what he wanted done with women's basketball -- but with what he's obviously done with men's basketball and football and the changes that are going on around Southern.
"I thought that was very exciting. If somebody was willing to give me an opportunity to be a part of that, then I was ready for that challenge."
And a challenge it will be - on many fronts.
Eikenberg will clearly have her hands full getting to know her new team - and figuring out how to get better results from them on the court.
The positives: Off the court - things are great. The Salukis finished with a cumulative 3.3 grade point average last semester, and the program graduates its players at a rate 20 percent higher than the general student population. The Salukis are also very active in the community.
"That's impressive to me, because that's not an easy job," said Eikenberg, whose players had similar off-the-court success at UMKC.
The negatives: "I think when we look on the basketball side - we've got some work to do," Eikenberg said.
"We've got to assess where we are. Obviously we're not measuring up to where we want to be in the Valley. So, obviously, we've got to take a look at that. We've got to get some help. If we can do that...I think you're going to see a Saluki team that makes strides right away."
But don't expect any miracles or quick fixes.
"I'd love to say next year we are going to turn it around," Eikenberg said. "But we've got some work to do. And work takes time. To restore tradition, it takes time. But hopefully, we're going to have the right mind-frame to do that."
The first step on what is sure to be a long but worthwhile journey began at 7 a.m. Tuesday morning, as Eikenberg met with her new players for the first time.
"They were excited and nervous at the same time," Eikenberg said. "And I was the same way. I was nervous walking in there. Boy, I took a deep breath and my heart was beating. I thought to myself, 'What if these kids don't like me?'"
"Then I said, 'no way.' You know, we're going to give them the best, and we're going to give them something that, hopefully, they haven't had."
"It was a nice little meeting-greeting," said freshman guard Clarise Jones, who admitted she was nervous and didn't know what to expect. " The coaches were cool, everything was nice so far.
"I could tell she's willing to work with us, compromise with us and work hard to turn this program around.
"I was more anxious than nervous," said junior guard Danette Jones. " I was just ready to meet coach Eikenberg and get things going."
"We were waiting and waiting for them to find someone," Clarise said. " And we were waiting impatiently. But now that we've found someone, man, we're just ready to start, ready to get rolling."
Eikenberg said getting to know her team and their abilities is the first phase in the rebuilding process.
"I don't think you can go into any system and you just start making changes right away," Eikenberg said.
Phase two involves implementing the rebuilding plan once a comfort level is established. Eikenberg thinks it will easier than the last time around at UMKC.
"We have that similar plan," Eikenberg said of rebuilding SIU's program. "I think it's a little different here at Southern than it would be at UMKC, obviously, because of the community, the athletic support - those things are really going to give us an edge in developing our plan a little bit more.
Eikenberg and her staff's philosophies all seem to come back to two things: intensity and hard work. She will bring assistants Jody Adams and Susan Koering along with her from UMKC.
"I'm intense about everything, but I love what I do," Eikenberg said. "We work extremely hard, and I know our players will share that same kind of work ethic as we move forward.
"There's an 'intense' thing that I expect. As hard as I expect our players to play, I expect my staff to prepare and for us to be focused.
Eikenberg plans to take that work ethic out on the recruiting trail - an area considered to be one of her biggest strengths.
"My goals for recruiting are to get out and get ourselves known right away," Eikenberg said. "We want to spend time with coaches. We want them to know us, and we want them to be able to know our players, because I think our players are the ones that buy into systems and sell systems. Sure, they come in initially for coaches, but it's our players that carry that vision."
Her selling points: the university as a whole, campus life (including the men's basketball team), the chance to be a difference maker and - perhaps most importantly - the fact that SIU women's basketball has had success before and can have success again.
The Salukis have made four NCAA Tournaments in the program's history. And Eikenberg is not coy about where she wants to lead her new program.
"We're hoping by the time we're done here, we're returning back to that NCAA Tournament," Eikenberg said. "It's been fun watching from a distance what the Saluki men have done. And I don't think there's any reason why that can't happen here."
And the Salukis are ready to start clean slate.
"I know we're excited to get started," said Danette Jones. "We have a lot of work to do, a lot of things to work on. But we're ready to get going.
"I think the month of uncertainty, just not knowing who was going to be the new coach, all of that was weighing on our minds. Now that they've made the hiring, it's just a great day for Saluki basketball."