Ahead of the game

By Gus Bode

Heady play of Mullins has many excited about the freshman’s impact

With the same poise an upperclassman emits, Bryan Mullins calmly strides on the court at the SIU Arena. Mullins, a true freshman, doesn’t show any signs of jitters characteristic of most first-year players.

Instead, after months of practices and SIU’s first two exhibition games, Mullins has shown to be a natural on the court for the Salukis’ men’s basketball team. So much so that junior guard Jamaal Tatum said Mullins’ transition from the high school game to college was instantaneous.

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“I think he acclimated the day he came in to tell you the truth,” Tatum said. “He plays like a college player. He already knew what he had to do when he came in. He knew he had to play hard all the time.”

Mullins said playing hard is the reason he chose SIU. He wanted to be a part of an intense defense and a fast break offense. So far, Mullins, as a Saluki, has been a good fit. With his uncanny court vision and superb ability to penetrate, he complements the offense by getting his teammates open looks. On defense, he has a hawking defensive presence that epitomizes the Salukis’ style.

“I think the coaches really look for people like that,” Mullins said. “Someone not afraid to pick up 90 feet from the basket and play hard on offense, push the ball, make good decisions, get everyone else involved and make everyone else on the floor better.”

He has been doing everything in his power to accomplish that. During the offseason, he put up about 500 shots a day. He will stay after practice with Tatum and others to take extra shots. If Mullins sees a new passing or dribbling move on TV, he will immediately go to the gym until he masters it.

In summer and fall scrimmages, the Downers Grove native had to guard one of the most explosive offensive players in the Missouri Valley Conference in Tatum.

So far, the rough initiation seemed to have paid off.

In SIU’s first exhibition game against the University of Missouri-St. Louis, Mullins poured in seven points and seven assists and no turnovers. In the Salukis’ second exhibition game, Mullins dropped seven points and two assists on SIU-Edwardsville. In each, there has been a very noticeable stretch in which Mullins has dominated the flow of the game.

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Albeit exhibition, the numbers don’t lie. Mullins leads the Salukis in assists, steals, minutes played and assists-to-turnover ratio.

Second-year head coach Chris Lowery isn’t singing Mullins’ praises just yet, but it appears that is not too far off.

“I’m not surprised at all,” Lowery said. “He’s a straight-up point guard. He does point guard things. That’s the reason he was ranked as high as he was ranked – because he’s a good basketball player.”

Tatum added, “He’s going to be good off the bounce. He really does remind me of the things I do with the ball in my hands.”

The Saluki coaching staff and fans alike wouldn’t mind another Tatum, a first-team preseason all-MVC pick. But Mullins’ game has its own originality. He is textbook in his ball handling and movements on the court but won’t hesitate to electrify the crowd with a no-look pass.

For now, it isn’t about putting on a show. Mullins said he wants to contribute in any way possible.

“I knew I was going to come out and play hard and get some steals and some assists,” Mullins said. “I expect myself to play good. I put in the work.”

Reporter Jordan Wilson can be reached at [email protected]

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