SIUE – Building Momentum
SIUE PREVIEW – PART THREE
(St. Louis, MO) – There is a new optimism surrounding the SIUE basketball program. As Jon Harris enters his third season at the Cougar helm, he has taller players, more accomplished scorers and there is optimism in the gym.
While the Cougars have won just 12 games in Harris’ first two seasons, he has a blend of veterans and underclassmen that seem to be ready for the challenges of the Ohio Valley Conference.
Leading holdovers Jalen Henry, Christian Ellis and Keenan Simmons are the veterans that Harris is building around. The 6’8 Henry has steadily improved and increased his role at SIUE. Having increased his scoring output and his overall presence in the Cougar attack, the senior averaged 2.4 points per game as a freshman and 5.5 as a sophomore and exploded to a 12.5 average last season.
Ellis was a two-time OVC ‘Freshman of the Week’ and averaged 7.3 points, 4.0 rebounds and 3.2 assists per game. The slick ball-handler started all but one SIUE game last year and is an emerging force in the OVC.
Simmons and Henry were the only two Cougars to start every game and the 6’6 senior led the team in rebounding and blocked shots.
These three are Harris’ core. His eight newcomers (see SIUE – Increased Firepower) are another reason for optimism around the Cougar program. The team snapped a 15-game losing streak with a season-ending victory. Five close losses preceded that Eastern Illinois triumph, so the team gained some confidence at the close of last season.
Harris says the current squad is feeling a bit of confidence.
Because of the current optimism and hopes of better things, Harris believes future recruiting efforts in the midwest will be more successful than in the past. There are four current Cougars from the Land of Lincoln, and Harris says in some players in the younger classes are interested in playing at SIUE.
The improvements in the Cougar program are coming at the right time, as there seems to be a revival of college basketball in the bi-state area. Missouri’s hiring of Harris’ former boss, Cuonzo Martin has sparked immense interest in the Tiger program and highly rated players have been drawn to Columbia. Now in his second year, Travis Ford is revolutionizing the Saint Louis University program and Illinois’ signing of head coach Brad Underwood has peaked the interest of Illini fans too.
Harris says excitement around those programs can even be a benefit to SIUE progress.
In Part 4 of our interview with Harris we discuss the current status of college basketball and how he views his role as a mentor and leader of young men.