Leaders of the pack

By Gus Bode

Tatum and Young thriving in backcourt

Junior guards Jamaal Tatum and Tony Young may not be as large as Darren Brooks and Stetson Hairston, but SIU men’s basketball head coach Chris Lowery expects them to have a similar impact in the Saluki backcourt.

When Brooks and Hairston exhausted their eligibility following the 2004-05 season, the Salukis lost perhaps the most talented guard duo in the Missouri Valley Conference. Brooks led the team in nearly every statistical category and was named conference player of the year and Hairston was a two-year starter.

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Lowery said although the program will miss the contribution of the two, the team is not worried about their absence.

“Now at this point these guys, they understand that Stetson and Darren aren’t going to play here anymore,” Lowery said. “They’ve been able to move on.”

With Brooks and Hairston gone, Lowery said he is looking to Tatum and Young to be the team’s main leaders and lead the Salukis to their fifth consecutive MVC championship.

“We’re not going to put all the pressure on Jamaal and Tony, but they’re the two oldest so a majority of the stuff is going to go through them,” Lowery said.

After splitting time at point guard with Brooks last season, while averaging 12.3 points and two assists for SIU, Tatum will garner a majority of the point guard duties in 2005-06.

Young was named as the sixth man of the year in the MVC last year and was called upon whenever the Salukis needed defensive help. He finished the season averaging 6.1 points and had 47 steals. This season, Young has worked his way into the starting lineup.

While Lowery said he has no doubt about Tatum and Young’s ability to lead the team, he said they would provide a different look than Brooks and Hairston did.

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“I think Darren and Stetson were just so big and physical,” Lowery said. “They bullied people. They made people afraid of how physical they were.”

“Tony and Jamal are quick, feisty. They get under your skin, and they’re kind of bothersome on defense. They are both really fast with the ball, and I think that’s the biggest difference between the two.”

Whereas Brooks and Hairston relied more on strength to drive into the lane and score, Tatum and Young scored a majority of their points from set shots at the perimeter. A great deal of Tatum’s points last season came from the three-point line.

Assistant coach Rodney Watson said the team will be able to use Tatum and Young’s speed to put increased pressure on opponents but said they lost the rebounding that Brooks and Hairston provided.

“It scares me to think what we are going to do rebounding wise,” Watson said. “Darren and Stetson gave us so much help on the boards.”

While the junior duo may not be able to stack up to Brooks and Hairston physically, Lowery said they have the same winning mindset of their predecessors.

“The thing that they all share is a competitive streak and wanting to win above everything,” Lowery said.

Tatum said he has tried to use his competitive edge to lead the younger players on the team. Though Brooks and Hairston were the team leaders last season, Tatum said he always tried to lead the team through his actions.

“Last year, I was kind of a leader by example,” Tatum said. “This year I can be more of a vocal leader, even though I don’t consider that my style. I never really have been a vocal leader, but that will come with time.”

Freshman guard Bryan Mullins said Tatum’s leadership abilities were evident to him when he first entered the program. With Young sidelined over the summer with a broken foot, Mullins spent summer pickup games guarding Tatum and learning to adjust to the pace of the college game.

“When we were playing pickup games, he would give me helpful hints on offense and defense,” Mullins said. “He really motivated me to get in the gym all summer and in the fall. He just helps me a lot mentally.”

Young also said he has tried to be a quiet leader on the team in past seasons, and now he embraces his role as a vocal leader.

“I’ve always looked at my self as kind of a leader,” Young said. “Maybe not more out in the open, but always behind doors. I’m kind of getting excited about actually stepping out.”

Freshman Wesley Clemmons, who redshirted last season, said he noticed the leadership of Tatum and Young last season even though they were on the team.

“They were leaders to me last year. It’s no different,” Clemmons said. “Even though they are juniors, they still have a lot of experience under their belt. So I’m very comfortable following behind them.”

With Tatum and Young stepping into the lead roles on the team, Watson said the younger players will need to take over the supporting roles the two played last season behind Brooks and Hairston.

Just as Tatum and Young did for Brooks and Hairston, Watson said younger guards such as junior Mike Dale and freshmen Clemmons and Bryan Mullins will have to step in and support their leaders to create scoring opportunities.

“Jamal and Tony really helped Darren and Stetson’s success because they were good complimentary players,” Watson said. “(Tony and Jamaal) are going to do what Mike, Bryan and Wesley allow them to do.”

With the start of the season less than a month away, Lowery said it is only a matter of time before everyone finds out what Tatum and Young are capable of.

“Darren and Stetson were successful the way they did things,” Lowery said. “Now we are going to see if Jamaal and Tony can be successful the way they do things.”

Reporter William Ford can be reached at [email protected]

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