Season start sweet for Caroline

Season start sweet for Caroline

By Tony McDaniel

While this year’s men’s basketball team is young, the talented freshman class makes the future look bright.

At the center of that luminosity is Jordan Caroline, a 6-foot-7-inch freshman forward from Champaign. Coach Barry Hinson said Caroline is one of the team’s most improved players.

“We just think he’s getting better every day,” Hinson said.

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Caroline has started seven of SIU’s eight games this season. He is averaging 8.4 points and 6.3 rebounds per game. Caroline leads the team in offensive rebounds and is second in total rebounds behind sophomore forward Sean O’Brien.

A big reason Caroline plays so many minutes is because of junior center Ibby Djimde’s knee injury. Djimde has not played since the season opener against Saint Louis. Caroline only played 14 minutes in that game. Since Djimde’s injury, Caroline has not played less than 20 minutes in any game.

Caroline’s extra playing time has come while he is not at 100 percent either. Hinson said Caroline suffered an injury before the exhibition game against Southwest Baptist on Nov. 8. Hinson would not disclose the nature of the injury but did say it was severe enough to warrant a trip to the hospital.

Hinson said injured or not, Caroline’s play will not suffer.

“On one leg he’s more athletic than anybody except [junior guard] Anthony [Beane],” he said.

One of Caroline’s best games as a Saluki came Saturday night in the 71-49 win against Austin Peay; he scored six of the first 8 points. Caroline finished with a career-high 13 points and 7 rebounds, the second-most in his career.

Caroline’s performance this season is good enough to take playing time from his more experienced teammates. Sophomore forward Bola Olaniyan said he does not see any sort of competition between himself and Caroline for minutes. He said both players help the team in different ways.

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Olaniyan said Caroline is a well-rounded player. He is effective on the offensive and defensive end of the floor.

Caroline started his high school career at Champaign Central High School, but moved to Montverde, Fla., in 2012 to play for Montverde Academy, a powerhouse in the world of high school basketball.

While at Montverde, Caroline won back-to-back national championships beginning in 2013; in 2014, the team finished 28-0. Caroline averaged 12 points and 8 rebounds in his senior season.

Caroline said all of Montverde’s success allowed him adapt to the level of competition SIU faces.

“It helped me come in with a lot of confidence,” Caroline said.

Louisiana Tech, Mount St. Mary’s and Florida International were all on Caroline’s list of schools during his recruiting process. The bond between coaches and teammates made SIU stand out to the high school national champion.

“[The coaching staff] seemed real committed to you,” Caroline said. “They’re real up front and they just tell you the truth.”

Hinson said it was Caroline’s size, speed and athleticism that attracted him during the recruiting process, but it will take time for him to adjust to the NCAA level.

“Whether it’s prep school or high school, when you catch the ball down on the block you haven’t been going against 6’11” and 7-footers every day,” Hinson said.

Caroline said as players continue to block his shots, he will learn from those mistakes and improve.

Olaniyan said Caroline is a good person and someone he always wants to be around off the court. Olaniyan is trying to assist his adaptation on the court.

“I just try to help him out in the game,” he said. “Let him know that the game is going to come to him, the game is easy.”

Aaron Graff and Tyler Davis contributed to this story.

Tony McDaniel can be reached at [email protected] or on twitter @tonymcdanielDE.

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