The Salukis’ trip to Hawaii during Christmas break will be strictly business as they compete in the ESPN Hawaiian Airlines Diamond Head Classic.
The three-day tournament starts Dec. 22 and offers a field of three NCAA tournament teams from the 2010-11 season: Clemson University, Xavier University and Kansas State. It will also give the Saluki men’s basketball team its first test against a school from a BCS conference in Kansas State.
Junior guard Kourtney Goff said the team looks forward to the challenge.
“I feel it will be a great opportunity for us to play on a national level, and to play good competition,” Goff said. “It will be a good thing for everyone individually and for the team, to let us know where we need to be going into our conference games.”
The Salukis begin the tournament against the Kansas State Wildcats, who return three starters from a team that went 23-11 last season and lost in the third round of the NCAA March Madness tournament.
Freshman center Harry said it feels like a gift to experience Hawaii during Christmas, but he’s also stressed because of the importance of winning.
The young Saluki team will play with only four players on their bench as senior Justin Bocot continues to sit out because of an ongoing legal situation. The bench showed life in its previous game against Western Michigan. One of the sparks off the bench was junior guard T.J. Lindsay who led the reserves with 11 points, including nine from the three-point range.
Lindsay said this trip will show how the team is continuing to gel as a unit.
“We’re coming together a little bit better and we’re playing better in close games,” Lindsay said. “We’re starting not to make the rookie mistakes that we did, and we just have to get better everyday.”
He said the team is also working on its toughness and rebounds in preparation for KSU and a game against Clemson or the University of Texas El-Paso. While the team is focused on basketball during the trip, the time spent off the court will be great for the team’s chemistry, Goff said.
“I definitely think it’s going to be a lot of fun. It’s a business trip first, but it would be even better to go down there and win it all,” Goff said.
The players recognize their performance in front of ESPN’s national audience is huge for the reputation of the Saluki basketball program.
Whitt said a win during this tournament will be a huge boost for the program.
“It shows the potential of the team,” Whitt said. “We had some struggles early because we’re a young team, but a win will bring national recognition to our program.”