SEMO – Building A Solid Foundation
(St. Louis, MO) – Rick Ray is building the right kind of foundation in the Southeast Missouri Redhawk program. The third-year head coach helped produce a dramatic turn around SEMO basketball fortunes last year and has re-stocked the roster with talented players to build around outstanding sophomore Denzel Mahoney.
In a wide ranging interview with Ray, we discussed the outlook for his current team, but also the state of college basketball, his history with other dynamic coaches and the growth of the Ohio Valley Conference.
Here in Part One we’re sticking to BASKETBALL. Ray is excited about his incoming talent and of course the leadership, skill and loyalty of the OVC’s reigning ‘Freshman of the Year’ Mahoney. His rookie year was nothing short of spectacular.
The Stat Line: 14.9 points per game; 4.2 rebounds; .377 from deep and .448 overall; 82 % from the line, while making 132 free throws. His freshman year was special.
Ray says Mahoney is one of those rare players that can lead a team at a young age. Despite losing the other four starters from a year ago, the Redhawks have talented newcomers to fill those gaps.
After two games, Mahoney has been everything Ray was expecting, averaging 23 points per game while grabbing 4.5 rebounds. The Redhawks took care of Missouri Baptist (NAIA team) in their opener and came within one or two plays of knocking off the SEC’s Mississippi, losing 96-95 in overtime in Oxford.
Those freshman have performed too. Ledarrius Brewer scored 20 points against the Rebels and is averaging 17 per game. Justin Carpenter is averaging 10.5. While Ray is building around Mahoney, those two are outstanding players in their own rite.
SEMO’s basketball fortunes have been less than stellar since becoming a Division 1 program. But after five wins in his first season, Ray engineered a 15 win season in 2016-17. The ten game improvement was the 22nd best jump by any Division 1 team.
The Indians, as they were known then, joined the highest division of college basketball in 1991 and own a losing record (312-443 -.413) and have produced just two winning seasons this decade. SEMO’s only two 20-win seasons, came in back-to-back seasons in the late 1990’s. The program has been a Division 1 team for 27 years, having joined in 1991.
So how does Ray hope to turn things around and what are his selling points to young players. He says Cape Girardeau is a great college town, they play a representative schedule and if a player comes and works hard he has a legitimate shot at a professional career (see: Antonius Cleveland).
Several coaches have told me that ‘year three’ is when you see what kind of a program a coach is building. Ray’s team won ten more games during year two than in year one. He says last year was significant because the team turned the corner in some of those important areas where struggling teams seem to lose games rather than the opponent winning them.
The Redhawks are ineligible for post season play this season because SEMO fell below the NCAA’s Academic Progress Rate (APR) for the time period of 2012-13 through 2015-16. SEMO also loses some practice time due to the penalties.
In Part Two of this interview we’ll talk about Ray’s view on college athletics and the roles he believes he and his coaching staff can play in the lives of young athletes.
Editor: Cover photo courtesy of gosoutheast.com.