Ford’s seventh season at SLU needs to become banner year for Billikens basketball

There is plenty of room up there in the Chaifetz Arena.

What about above the northern border, which is stopped near section 205?

That’s where you can find the first two Billikens basketball flags since the Travis Ford era. One trip to the NCAA Tournament in 2019. One of the Atlantic 10 playoffs that made it possible.

It’s over with luck. That’s all.

Time to buy a new one. It’s bigger. Season seven should be a banner year for the Ford team, and it should be.

Ford can’t shout it from the Midtown rooftops, but it knows what we know. This should be his best team. The evidence was clear even in Monday night’s showdown against UMSL coach Bob Sundvold’s boring Tritons, which SLU won 81-58.

The Billikens are talented, experienced and driven by a desire to be better than just good.

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Big teams have big guards. They have old starters. They can get to the basket and shoot well from outside. They go back and defend hard. They’re motivated not by early accolades — SLU is ranked second in the Atlantic 10, behind Dayton — but by a willingness to change the slogan on the back of its new warm-up shirts: “The trip is reward.”

We’ll see where this tour goes, but make no mistake. The Ford team has pieces to go places. Need more proof? How about this quote from the sports bible, Chris Dortch’s Blue Ribbon College Basketball Yearbook.

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The publication says: “It’s hard to look at this team and not see big things. “Saint Louis is deep, experienced and talented. It’s a very good combination. ”

Point guard Yuri Collins on Monday was rightfully named to the Bob Cousy Award watch list, along with others, for the best point guard in the country. If he can reduce some of his expenses, he can win. Credit goes to SLU’s athletic sponsors for the name, image and character play to keep Collins here. Tennessee came for him hard this past season. He stayed. Investments will pay dividends.

Javonte Perkins didn’t play on Monday, as there is no reason to rush this ankle injury he is dealing with,​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​ but he is back from last year´s knee injury, which changed the team Ford’s sixth on the disappointing side of the NCAA Tournament bubble. . Perkins no longer has to lead the team every night. His team improved as he recovered. You just have to contribute, and you will.

Like experienced guard Fred Thatch, big man Francis Okoro improved as last season progressed. Okoro had double-doubles in five of the Billikens’ last eight games last year, despite two doubles.

Gibson Jimerson, who ranked third in the A-10 in scoring last year, should be tough to guard because of the many threats around him. He made 42% from 3-point range last year. That will work, and it can get better now.

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Here’s another name that should help in that long game: Sincere Parker. The hallmark of a junior college transfer is one word for his first name – truth. On Monday night, he hit his first 3-pointer in an SLU uniform to spark an 11-point streak in four minutes. Parker finished with 15 points for the Bills, sharing the team lead with Jimerson.

If Perkins goes back to being Perkins, and Parker scores like this, watch out.

The arrival of transfer Javon Pickett quietly led Missouri in scoring in the SEC playoffs last season. Like Thatch and Collins, he is a relentless defender. Don’t sleep on his potential for this team. Had he played for SLU last year and repeated the scoring he did in the SEC, he would have tied Collins for second on the team behind Jimerson’s 16.3.

Ford started Collins, Pickett, Thatch, Jimerson and Okoro on Monday. That schedule could change depending on Perkins’ health and the names of the bench (Parker!) moving forward. Terrence Hargrove Jr. who flies high, needs to hit the boards with anger. Strong transfer Jake Forrester Temple adds depth to the frontcourt. Two attractive young men – Kellen Thames and Larry Hughes Jr. – they can help, but in the best way. They have no jobs waiting for them. They have to take the parts away from someone else. Internal competition should be simmering within this group all the time. Iron sharpens iron.

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We must mention two conditions.

The starters have to stay healthy, and the bad luck has to start.

SLU has paid its fair share of woes in recent times. Perkins’ injury last year. COVID cut SLU two seasons short, ruined the offensive flow after the blowout in 2020-21, and canceled the A-10 and NCAA trips in 2019-20, after the Billikens won six of their last seven games. . Comparing 2019 NCAA Tournament appearances shouldn’t be the goal now. It should be the beginning of the goal. If not, Ford will be underperforming with his best team.

Yes, Dayton is beautiful and full of talent, too. But the Billikens have some spice that the young Flyers don’t have. It’s better to take advantage now, because the Flyers will continue to grow rapidly.

In six seasons of Ford’s tenure, the Billikens have become a team that looks one step away from its greatest success.

If it’s going to happen, now is the time.

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