Serving the Southern Illinois University community since 1916.

The Daily Egyptian

Serving the Southern Illinois University community since 1916.

The Daily Egyptian

Serving the Southern Illinois University community since 1916.

The Daily Egyptian

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Houston we have a Saluki: SIU basketball builds strong Texas connection

Houston+we+have+a+Saluki%3A+SIU+basketball+builds+strong+Texas+connection

There are only 14 players on the Southern Illinois University men’s basketball team roster. While four of them are from Illinois, there is a surprising state that supplies three more: Texas.

AJ Ferguson, Trey Miller and Cade Hornecker all hail from the Lone Star State. Ferguson and Miller are from Houston, and Hornecker is from Amarillo. Both cities are over 750 miles from Carbondale, which begs the question: how did these players end up in southern Illinois?

While some onlookers may say that the SIU brand may not quite be what it once was, it still holds a lot of respect around the country, Saluki head coach Bryan Mullins said.

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“SIU basketball is nationally known and nationally recognized. Our league, the Missouri Valley Conference, is well respected across the country, so when we start to talk to parents and prospective student athletes… they’re pretty impressed with what we’ve accomplished here, and what type of basketball and the level that we play on,” Mullins said.

Hornecker spoke about SIU and the Valley’s reputations specifically.

“I know the history that they have here of winning, how successful they were when Bryan played here and now with him as coach,” he said. “I just felt like it was gonna be a good spot for me. I know the Valley’s a strong conference.”

This national reputation, beyond appealing to players, is an important factor in a crucial recruiting aspect: building bonds.

“It really comes down to relationships and the basketball community,” Mullins said. “It’s a large community, but once you kind of get intertwined in it, it becomes a small community.”

Relationships with high school coaches, AAU programs and other college coaches often can be the difference in whether a program will look at a player.

“You really rely on your relationships across the country to help you get good information and make sure that the kids you’re bringing into the program are the right type of kid that fits your program and fits the university,” Mullins said.

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Personal bonds with players are likely the most important relationships that coaching staffs have to form. For SIU, assistant coach Brendan Mullins is often the main point of contact for recruits and the person they get to know the best before they reach campus.

“I’m a relationship person,” Brendan Mullins said. “Building relationships with the recruits, but more importantly the players on our team, the families on our team.”

According to Bryan Mullins, building these friendships has gotten easier due to technology like FaceTime and other social media platforms. Investing time in potential players is still a critical and long process though.

“A lot of it is making sure you develop a good relationship. And that’s just a daily process,” Bryan Mullins said. “Really investing time into that relationship with the prospective student athlete and their family and making sure they understand that you’re sincere about your interest in their son.”

For Bryan Mullins and his staff, the focus on Texas has developed within the past couple of years.

“Texas is an interesting state,” Brendan Mullins said.

While high school football may be the better known and more romanticized institution in Texas, everything’s bigger in the Lone Star State, making basketball just as big of a deal to many Texan high schools.

“The growth in Texas basketball has exponentially blown up over the last 20 years or so,” Brendan Mullins said. “It’s such a big state with so many cities that even schools within the state struggle to be able to recruit it all.”

SIU also fills an unexpected void in Texas that can offer them a unique recruiting edge.

“There’s not really a Texas school that is kind of level with us. They’re either smaller schools or, obviously, really big schools. From that standpoint, we have a little bit of an advantage if we want to go in there and recruit that state,” Brendan Mullins said.

All of these things certainly helped bring Hornecker to SIU, especially after the COVID-19 pandemic effectively shut down many schools recruiting efforts in 2020 and 2021. Another, more unique factor was in play during Hornecker’s recruitment, too.

“My high school, our nickname is actually Floorburn High. My coach came [to Carbondale] when Coach [Bruce] Weber was still here and stole Floorburn U from him. So there was some connection to that, it felt a little bit like home,” Hornecker said. 

“There were some interesting connections that you don’t always find during Cade’s high school recruitment,” Bryan Mullins said.

Beyond the familiarity, both Mullins stayed hard on the recruiting trail with Hornecker.

“Coach Brendan was the main one who recruited me when he first watched me play in Dallas… After that, he was at Nike Peach Jam and watched me play,” Hornecker said. “So they offered me, and then Bryan was probably calling me at least once a week, texting me a couple times a week.”

Miller’s and Ferguson’s recruiting processes were also impacted by the pandemic. While they each had contact with SIU before committing to a school, both went different directions. Ferguson attended East Central University in Oklahoma, and Miller attended Incarnate Word. 

Though they had found collegiate homes, SIU’s staff didn’t abandon the connection they had formed with the players during the recruiting process.

“Just not burning that bridge, not being upset about [them not choosing SIU] or anything like that, wishing them well,” Brendan Mullins said.

“Then, if it arises where they are looking to transfer, being one of the first to call them and then knowing that we already do have a relationship and having a little bit of a trust factor built in,” Mullins said.

Due to several factors, Miller’s initial recruitment didn’t fall SIU’s way. But when Miller entered the transfer portal, SIU was one of the first to come calling, drawing upon the preexisting relationship.

“Coach Brendan and Coach Bryan immediately hit [me up] as soon as I entered the portal. It was just talking with me and they wanted me to come on a visit to the school since I never was able to, so eventually I took the time to visit Carbondale,” Miller said.

Finding the right fit the second time around was also very important for Miller.

“During that time, the NCAA still had that rule that you can only transfer once… if I was going to transfer somewhere, I wanted it to be somewhere where I knew I was gonna like and I knew I was gonna stay and I knew where I was gonna grow as a player,” Miller said.

Relationships in the basketball community once again played a big part in Ferguson’s SIU recruitment. According to Ferguson, a coach from East Central Oklahoma’s conference talked to Brendan Mullins, who in turn reached out to Ferguson.

“Coach Brendan reached out to me and told me everything they wanted in a player and everything they liked about me throughout the process,” Ferguson said. “He thought it’d be a good decision for me to come here.”

And while all Ferguson, Hornecker and Miller all did end up in Carbondale, it wasn’t without facing a significant change.

“It was a big difference, weather wise. A big, big difference… it doesn’t get cold in Houston,” Ferguson said. 

Editor’s note: Hornecker and Bryan Mullins list different head coaches who were at SIU when Hornecker’s high school coach came to Carbondale; because a year was not given, it was not possible to determine if Bruce Weber or Chris Lowery was the head coach at that time.

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