‘Ray of Hope’ at SEMO
(St. Louis, MO) – Rick Ray is climbing a tall mountain at Southeast Missouri, but the third year head coach isn’t moved by what he sees. He has a long range vision and he believes he is building the Redhawk program into an Ohio Valley Conference contender.
After winning just five games in his first season in Cape Girardeau, the former Mississippi State coach rallied SEMO to a 15 win season last year. With future NBA player Antonius Cleveland leading the way, the Redhawks earned nine OVC decisions including a sweep of Murray State.
As Cleveland headed to the NBA and an APR imposed post-season ban fell on the program, Ray was left with one returning starter and only four players with Division 1 college basketball experience. Many wondered if reigning ‘Freshman of the Year‘ Denzel Mahoney would even stick around.
Mahoney stuck and Rick Ray kept building. With two highly rated incoming freshmen (Ledarrius Brewer and Justin Carpenter) to hitch to Mahoney’s wagon, Ray is building the SEMO basketball brand, one brick at a time.
At 7-9 (1-2 in the OVC) the Redhawks aren’t setting the world on fire, but staying competitive against a very difficult schedule has proven something about this collection of Redhawks and this coach. A victory against UMKC and AT Southern Illinois were huge wins. Playing competitively and losing in overtime to Louisiana Tech was one of those ‘moral victories’.
In preseason conversations, Ray was bullish on those two freshmen, and in a conversation we had after a loss to Saint Louis U, he tells me they are still growing and developing.
Ray speaks of improvement, willingness to work and pointing to ‘what can be’. This is no ‘smoke and mirrors’ kind of coach. He’s a bit old school in his work ethic and knows how to speak to today’s athletes in very real and tangible terms.
Even as the Redhawks are in the heat of the OVC season, the SEMO staff is looking for the next strong freshmen class to stack in behind Brewer and Carpenter.
During the early signing period, Ray inked 3-Star guard Alex Caldwell. The Columbia, South Carolina native averaged 14 points, five rebounds and nine assists per game as an all-state junior. His ESPN Top 30 ranking, made this a recruiting coup for Ray and points to continued better things.
While the Redhawks have dropped five of their last six games, Ray still believes his team will have a productive year. It’s the process of growth and discipline that he believes will pull his team through.
So what about the APR, post season ban? Fans and media alike want to know about the academics at Southeast Missouri. Will the Redhawks be post season eligible next year? With some inspiration from his mother and his own passion to see young men earn their college degrees, Ray points to next season with hope and expectation.
Graduation rates are on the rise. Talent base getting stronger. Outstanding home facility. This writer believes SEMO has the potential to rise and contend for OVC titles. Squarely between Memphis and St. Louis, Ray and his staff have short commutes to two, very talent rich metropolitan areas.
As Ray says, they are taking some lumps this season, but the building blocks are in place and there is a ‘Ray of Hope’ in Cape Girardeau.