Always an exciting time of year, the start of the 2015-16 basketball season has special significance for Southwestern Illinois College basketball coach Jay Harrington as he begins his 37th season as Blue Storm coach.
Now in his second season as just a coach after three decades of also serving as the athletic director, Harrington’s newest Blue Storm edition could be one of his most exciting as he prepares to unveil a guard-heavy sopohomore-loaded squad that will play a fast-tempo and high pressure type game.
“We’re going to press. And I mean for 40 minutes. We’re going to flat get after it on the defensive end of the court,’’ Harrington said on Monday. “We’ve got a lot of athletes who get up and down the court. If they are tired, they are supposed to tug their shirts and we’ll get them a breather. If they mess up a couple of times on the court, they’re coming out. We’re going to shuttle players in and out a lot this season.’’
That season opens on Tuesday when SWIC plays host to the Missouri Baptist College junior-varsity beginning at 7 p.m. Planet Academy Prep School from Phoenix, Ariz., visits Jay Harrington Court on Wednesday with tipoff again set for 7 p.m.
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These two early games could prove vital for Harrington and his staff which still has yet to see its entire team together at one time because of injuries. Sophomore point guard De’Antae McMurray missed most of the preseason with an illness while sophomore center Justin Dieker has already missed four weeks of drills with a foot injury and will not play at all this week.
Sophomore Kyle Lemons, perhaps SWIC’S best perimeter shooter, is out with a knee injury while 6-7 sophomore LaRoyce Eason has also been injured in the preseason.
“This is as many sophomores as we’ve had for a while and because of that I think we’ve got a chance to be a good basketball team,’’ Harrington said. “We just want to get our entire basketball team together as early as possible because our schedule is brutally difficult. We’ve got five GRAC (Great Rivers Athletic Conference) games before the semester break. We play Mineral Area (College) twice, we play Three Rivers College... it’s tough.”
“I guess the one good thing is that with all the kids who have been out, we’ve gotten a chance to see the others and gauge who will be able to help us later in the year,’’ he added.
When healthy, SWIC may have as many high quality guards and small forwards as any team in the GRAC. McMurray, who is getting lots of interest from NCAA Division I schools, could be one of the top JUCO point guards in the nation. Two freshmen, including fellow Alton graduate Darrius Edwards and former Kentucky first-team all-state guard Trey Edwards, appear to have a slight edge for spots in the starting lineup over a pair of sophomore standouts in Dez Marshall and Bo Burkhart.
“Dez I think started 20-21 games for us last year and I think Bo (Burkhart) also started 10-12. They’ll play a lot of minutes, but Trey (Edwards) has looked really strong as has Darrius (Edwards) who might be the most athletic kid I’ve coached. Then we’ve got a kid like James (Jordan) who has looked strong as well and if need be we can move Quan (Poindexter) out to a guard. We’ve got some options.’’
Poindexter and fellow sophomore Chris Galbreath can both play the small forward, while Galbreath, at 6-6 is strong, athletic and quick enough to play power forward. Both are getting looks from plenty of four year schools.
“Quan was all-region last year and is just a very solid all-around player,’’ Harrington said. “Chris (Galbreath) has really matured in the last year and I’m thinking both of them could really have good seasons for us. They both are smart players, good shooters who are getting better and they can both get up and down the floor and really jump.’’
Another potential contributor up front for SWIC could be 6-6 power forward Dorrian Butler while 6-5 Cervaunte Lawson is another athletic forward. Freshmen guards Austen Twombley and James Wright could also see playing time and are good perimeter shooters.
At center and a big key for SWIC will be Dieker. The 6-9 former Freeburg High School standout needs to be a presence in the middle and he also has the ability to step out and hit the 15-18 foot jump shot. Eason will also play center and has shown great improvement in the last year according to Harrington.
After what NJCAA Hall of Fame coach Jay Harrington called a “disappointing” 17-14 season a year ago, the Blue Storm returns nine sophomores.