Senior guard Justin Bocot didn’t come to SIU on a scholarship like most Saluki basketball players; he worked his way from a red-shirt to a leading scorer.
Although Bocot came to Carbondale with the objective of being on the men’s basketball team, he spent his freshman year sweeping the floor of SIU Arena, not playing on it.
Bocot held a student work job as a custodian, and paid his way like most students before making it onto the team the next year.
In the 2009-10 season, Bocot was a key asset to the men’s basketball program, but his playing time this season has suffered.
After five years at SIU, Bocot said he is concerned with how his future opportunities will play out after an 8-22 record.
“Sometimes things don’t go the way things are envisioned,” Bocot said. “In my head, I should have been starting this whole year. We should have been over .500, but that didn’t work out. I think people should have roles, and those roles shouldn’t change that much, and coach should give people their roles.”
Bocot started 26 out of 30 games and averaged 26.3 minutes and 9.1 points per game during the 2009-10 season. He started 11 out of 30 games during the 2010-11 season, and even with a scratched cornea, he averaged 18.1 minutes and 6.2 points per game.
But in Bocot’s final year, he’s started seven out of 25 games, averaging 17.3 minutes and 5.6 points.
Many SIU fans question why Bocot doesn’t start or have adequate playing time after he was a top scorer for the men’s basketball program in the 2011 season. Some have wondered whether it’s a dispute between him and coach Chris Lowery, or if Bocot’s play isn’t worthy.
But Bocot said unlike some players, his relationship with his coach is positive.
“It’s unfortunate for (Bocot) that things have gone the way they have, but we’ve given him every opportunity to be successful,” Lowery said Feb. 20 before SIU’s loss to Drake. “You can’t make shots for him, you can’t lead for him. It’s unfortunate because you want to see him have success with all he’s been through and all the things he’s gone through to even be a basketball player here at Southern.”
Bocot said he was optimistic about remaining at SIU after the Salukis finished 15-15 during the 2010-11 season.
Even after successful former SIU basketball players Kevin Dillard, Anthony Booker and Gene Teague decided to transfer to bigger universities with broader athletic programs, Bocot said he stayed positive.
Dillard, one of the transfers, went to the University of Dayton, in Dayton, Ohio, to play basketball. Like Bocot at SIU, Dillard sat out his first year at Dayton, but Dillard said he used the time to learn more.
He said sitting out helped him to elevate his skill and learn more about the game in a different system, which he said fits his style of play.
“(Dayton’s) system is better for me because I can play up-tempo most of the game,” Dillard said.
However, Dillard said he misses SIU fans.
Freshman center Dantiel Daniels said he already knew about Bocot’s abilities on the court when he had committed to SIU.
“We definitely could’ve used (Bocot),” Daniels said. “His leadership skills stand out, and he tries to get everybody involved. He brings energy.”
Bocot said it’s his dedication to his teammates, the university and Saluki fans that has kept him at SIU.
“What made me stay at SIU is loyalty,” Bocot said. “I trusted coach Lowery, and I wanted to get the program back to where it was when they went to the Sweet 16.”
Bocot sat under players such as Bryan Mullins, Jamaal Tatum and Tony Young, former MVC champions and NCCA Tournament qualifiers. Bocot said he hasn’t gotten much recognition during the 2011-12 season, especially compared to Mamadou Seck, the only other senior player.
Bocot said he admires Seck’s ability to take control of a game both offensively and defensively, but he said having two seniors on the floor at the same time makes for a better court presence.
Based on his semester’s play, Bocot said he does question the effect on his future.
“After school, I want to play ball overseas,” Bocot said. “I’m looking into Paris or Brazil so far … maybe even the NBA D-league. I do wonder about my career.”
However, Bocot said he will put the experience behind him as he looks into the future. He said if he would’ve left SIU, then he would be unsure where he would stand as a player.
But he said one thing is certain: He looks forward to May.
“I know where I am now, and I’m going to graduate,” Bocot said. “I do wonder what my career would have been if I transferred like others, but I have no regrets because the fans and my teammates are important to me.”