Despite a rough 2012 season start with suspensions and injuries, coach Barry Hinson has the Salukis at 3-1 and off to their best start since 2006.
The increased performance on the court is, in part, because of the heightened level of accountability and responsibility Hinson is trying to instill upon his players through his life-skills program.
“Our maturity level is not very good,” Hinson said. “The coaching staff has an enormous amount of teaching to do, and that’s fine because that’s part of our job.”
The Salukis’ first-year coach said notable community figures have come to speak with the team and share their life experiences.
“I’ve enjoyed (the life skills program),” Hinson said. “We have had a judge come speak to us. We’ve had former players come speak to us, former coaches come speak to us. We’ve had lawyers and police officers come speak to us. We have had a lady come talk to us about our manners. I have talked to them about patriotism. I think it’s working. I’m hearing great things in the community about how our guys are acting now off the floor, so I do think it’s working from the program.”
The entire team should exhibit more leadership qualities, but the seniors must lead the way, he said.
“Good teams have good leadership,” Hinson said. “It starts with your seniors, and our seniors have to do a better job leading.”
Senior guard Jeff Early said he believes his effort in practice and in games will help others elevate their play.
“Coach tells us all the time that we need to give more on the defensive end, so I try to take charges and do things to help my team get more motivated to play defense,” Early said.
While off the court, Early said he pays more attention to his diet and tries to stay out of trouble as much as possible.
“With all the injuries in the beginning season, we can’t afford to lose anybody else,” he said. “I’m starting to see why I have to take better care of my body and not get into any trouble.”
Freshman guard Colby Long said the program is designed to improve the team as men first and players second.
“Coach is trying to implement a system to help us make better decisions off the court and make us into positive role models,” he said.
Long said he is planning for life outside of basketball.
“We are not going to be young forever. We’re not going to be college basketball players forever, either,” he said. “We have to learn to be successful in other things.”
Davante Drinkard, the Salukis’ post forward, said he learned how important his record can be.
“One of the judges who came to talk to us warned us about our decisions,” he said. “Your past is always going to stay with you. The bad decisions you make can hurt you in the future.”
Drinkard said Hinson expects more from his players than almost every other coach he has played under.
“We have to set an example, not just on the court but also as students and people,” he said.
The Salukis will face the Bulldogs of Fresno State at home Nov. 28.