First-year Southern Illinois Saluki basketball coach Barry Hinson's already challenging job has gotten even harder.
Hinson, who replaced Chris Lowery in March, inherited a team that went just 8-23 last season. In his first few months on the job, Hinson has had players quit the team and get in trouble with the law. Hinson has scrambled to fill out his first Saluki roster, but at Tuesday afternoon's press conference in the Cook Club inside SIU Arena, Hinson announced that his team will be shorthanded because of injury problems.
"We are really struggling with having enough guys to practice on the floor," Hinson said. "I kid you not, we're putting (assistant) Coach (Terrance) McGee on the floor to help us practice just so we can go 5-on-5."
Four Salukis — including three returning players who Hinson had hoped would be contributors this season — have been hurt and limited in practice. Hinson will have just eight or nine players when his team tips off the exhibition season Saturday against Lincoln (Mo.) at 7:05 at SIU Arena.
Josh Swan, a 6-3 sophomore guard who Hinson said was a projected starter, is out two-to-three weeks. Forward Dantiel Daniels, who was on the Missouri Valley Conference All-Freshman team last year, is out five weeks, and possibly longer with a groin injury, Hinson said.
Junior center Davante Drinkard, who is the Salukis' tallest and most experienced post player, has dealt with nagging foot injuries that kept him out at the end of last season. His status in unknown heading into this season, Hinson said.
Freshman Chase Heins, a 6-6 center from Trico, had surgery Tuesday morning and is out at least 12 weeks. Hinson said Heins will redshirt this season.
The Salukis are also going to be without the services of junior guards Diamond Taylor and Desmar Jackson, who face disciplinary action after breaking team rules over the summer. Jackson is expected to contribute soon, but Hinson would not specify when Taylor will be ready.
"I'm really upset at Diamond," he said. "I'm really upset because you know the easiest thing for me to do right now is to bring him out of suspension based on all the things that have happened. And I can promise you, that's not happening. We're not sending a message specifically to him. We're sending a message to our team, to our university, to our fans, to our community, and to our state."
Hinson said the challenges with injuries, rebuilding the program and discipline issues have been an eye-opening experience.
"This is my 32nd year to coach and we've had more issues happen since I've been here, the Thursday after the National Championship game, than I've had collectively over 31 years," he said. "With that being said, it's okay. Because what it does is it energizes you every day. Every program in the country has adversities. Every program has injuries. Not to the extent that we have, but at the same time we accept the challenges and we'll find a way."
Page 2 of 2 - SIU has four true freshmen, two sophomores, four juniors and three seniors on its roster this year. Along with Heins, 6-7 freshman Bola Olaniyan will redshirt due to academic issues. The other freshmen — guards Jalen Pendleton and Anthony Beane, Jr. — will be forced into action because of the injury issues, Hinson said. Swan and Daniels are the only returning sophomores after the departures of Treg Setty and Harry Whitt. Junior walk-on Colby Long joins Taylor and Jackson. Seniors T.J. Lindsay, Jeff Early and Kendal Brown-Surles provide leadership.
"I think you're only as good as your seniors," Hinson said. "I think your seniors are absolutely the backbone of your program."
Hinson's group will only not only be shorthanded Saturday, but also inexperienced. Hinson said his team is still trying to learn his system and fix problems that have plagued the Salukis in the past.
"You get better every day. That's the only thing we ask for from our guys," Hinson said. "We've got to find a way to get better every day. We are literally going through house training. We keep our eyes on the guys and train them to do everything we want and what we want to do and what we want to accomplish and how we want to go about it."
Though it would be easy for Hinson to get discouraged, the coach said he has been encouraged by a lot of things.
"I'm encouraged by our guys' attitudes, by our guys being willing to learn," he said. "We've have 11 practices and nine out of those 11 have been pretty good. I've always believed this: you play like you practice, you're only as good as your seniors, and your best player has got to be your hardest worker. We've fallen short in some of those categories but we try to establish that every day as one of our cornerstones."
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