Saluki Basketball teams look for new energy in ‘21-’22 season

By Cole Daily and Joseph Bernard, Staff Reporters

 

After a confusing and COVID-riddled 2020 season, the Saluki basketball teams begin the grind once again, looking for more energy this time around. Saluki basketball players say conditioning, experience, and focus are key to going the distance this season.

The Southern Illinois University Carbondale Men’s Basketball Team got off to a fast start last season, going undefeated in their first seven games. However, they fizzled out quickly at the end of the season, losing four of their final five games. The team did enough to win the first round of the Missouri Valley Conference Tournament, but injuries caught up to the team, and they fell to 20 ranked Loyola 49-73 in the quarterfinals.

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Last year, the women’s basketball team went 9-16 with a loss to Missouri State in the second round of the MVC Tournament, with many players feeling they didn’t reach their full potential. This year, they want to change that.

Players on both teams are looking for a fresh start after their struggle last year.

Men’s junior forward Marcus Domask said the team’s biggest area of improvement over the offseason has been their focus.

“Our focus on everything is increased now. We’re just more locked in than last year. We’re working on everything, our flow especially,” Domask said.

Domask was one of the many Men’s starters that ended last year on the injury list, with a season-ending foot injury in January. Domask, the team’s top scorer, missed 16 games. The Salukis couldn’t find their groove following the injury and went 5-11 without Domask, finishing 12-14 overall.

Still rehabbing from the injury, Domask said he is doing everything he can to come back as strong as ever.

“I’m trying to get into the gym multiple times a day, every day, to get my shot feeling good, get my conditioning up. I’m getting my confidence up on defense,” Domask said. “The next couple months will be pushing me to get more confident in my skills and abilities, so, when the game comes, I don’t second guess myself, and I can play fluently.”

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Domask said the excitement is different this year knowing the team is going to have a lot more freedom as well as having fans back in the stands.

“Everything has more excitement around it knowing we’re going to have fans and we can go out in the community and go eat when we want to eat and do what we want to do,” Domask said. “Now when we’re off the court we can hang out with each other more. Our chemistry has gone up and it’s just more exciting with the normal year that’s supposed to come.”

Men’s junior point guard Trent Brown said the team is sticking to the familiar formula they had last year, with some differences.

“We’re sticking to our same principles, but doing them in a different manner. The manner we’re doing things, and how we’re attacking everyday is our biggest jump forward,” Brown said.

Brown said the team is taking many strides towards improving in many different areas on the court.

“The biggest things we’re improving on as a team is communication, people taking ownership of the program and, really, the defensive end,” Brown said.

Brown said the extra year of experience everyone has is extremely valuable.

“A lot of us are getting older now. A lot of our guys have been around for more than two years now. There’s good leadership in the program now, and everyone is moving in the right direction,” Brown said.

The team was one of the ten youngest in all of college basketball last season, with an average age of 20 years, 8 months, and 20 days old. Now that average has been increased to 21 years and 29 days old.

Brown said the team is focusing on one goal by the end of the season: a championship.

“I just want a banner by the end of it, and I know that’s how a lot of our guys in the locker room feel, which is why we gel together so well,” Brown said.

Even when the post-season break happened, Brown still took time to get some shots in.

“I’d try to shoot, and always have a ball in my hand. I was still doing that as much as possible. I know everyone else was at home and working on it as much as they could to keep their body right. All we think about is trying to win these next games,” Brown said.

While confident, Brown said that they shouldn’t be overconfident about their chances.

“Honestly we haven’t done anything to earn any accolades yet. We’re hunting right now, and we hope to get there. But, for right now, we’re in a full chase mode,” Brown said.

Women’s sophomore point guard Quierra Love said the team’s main goal this off season is improving their stamina and toughness. 

“Honestly, what I’ve been doing, [and] the team has been doing, is pretty much just conditioning. Almost every day we’re lifting, trying to get stronger.” Love said.  

Love said she felt they didn’t have that extra burst, while the opposition did, which can be a huge advantage in a long, grueling basketball game. 

Women’s senior point guard Caitlin Link said in order for the team to improve in the win column, they’re going to need to focus on the little things.

“We’ve put a lot of focus on, like, the small details especially in the off season so that by the time the pre-season and the regular season comes around we can…put it all together,” Link said. 

This year’s team has a lot of upperclassmen coming back after the NCAA allowed every athlete an additional year of eligibility because of COVID-19. Link said this is a huge advantage for the Salukis.

“We have a lot of veterans. So I think that we can use that, and…I think that honestly we have the best talent (in the conference) and if we put that all together we should show that and…win the conference tournament.” Link said.

Link said there was only one thing on the veterans’ mind heading into the upcoming season. 

“It’s definitely making it to the championship game, and winning the conference. We want to get an all-bid seed into the tournament,” Link said.

Love said the team’s chemistry is one of their strengths, and thinks it could help turn their dreams into reality.

“We’re starting to do these team building,culture setting retreats as a team where we bond… just talking about court stuff, personal stuff, just so we get to know each other better. I definitely think our chemistry will help us, especially with all of these upperclassmen coming back.”  Love said.

Both Saluki basketball teams think they have made positive strides in the offseason, and have a lot of work to do until the season starts.

Sports Reporter Cole Daily can be reached at [email protected]

Sports reporter Joseph Bernard can be reached at [email protected] or on twitter at @jojobernard2001

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