Jay Harrington has coached all types of teams in accumulating more than 760 wins in his 36 years as the head men’s basketball coach at Southwestern Illinois College.
There have been tall teams, short teams that relied on quickness, teams that have underachieved and those that have overachieved. But with 15 new players on the 2016-17 roster, it safe to say Harrington has never had a younger team than he has entering this season.
The defending Great Rivers Athletic Conference champions and NJCAA Region 24 runner-up a year ago, SWIC opens its season on Friday in the Moberly (Mo.) Junior College Tournament with as much raw athletic talent on its roster than it’s had in several years. But after three weeks of preseason drills, Harrington is anything but pleased as his team faces an incredibly brutal tough schedule in the first month.
“It’s been a very trying preseason, very trying,” Harrington said. “We have 15 new faces on this team and they were big-time players on their high school, prep team and we’ve got three players who started at least some last season on their junior college teams. But nobody has stepped up to be a leader. Listen this team is loaded in talent.
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“They just aren’t buying into the system. I think that kids these days think they are better than they really are and they lack good solid fundamentals that you need to be successful in this sport. I’m old school, I believe in fundamentals, I believe in working together as a team.”
Coming off a very good 26-7 season a year ago, the Blue Storm opens against perennial NJCAA Division II power Iowa Lakes in the Moberly tournament on Friday and then takes on Planet Academy on Saturday.
Also on the Blue Storm’s pre-Christmas schedule are two games against perennial national power Mineral Area College in addition to playing Three Rivers College and GRAC league games against Olney Central, Wabash Valley and Southeastern Illinois.
Because of financial reasons, the Blue Storm has had to cut down on its preseason schedule. Heading into the Moberly Tournament, SWIC had played in just one event — the Vincennes University Jamboree — in which it lost to three lesser teams.
“We just didn’t play well at all. The kids were down and the coaches were down. The reason we didn’t play well is simple. We’re not playing together as a team and the kids did not do what we wanted them to do,” Harrington said. “The first month of the season has been punishment after punishment and it’s just now getting to the point to where a few of them have begun to turn the corner. With our schedule the way it is the first half of the season, if we don’t start playing as a team — and soon — it could be a very very long season, as long as a season as we’ve had here in 20 years.”
Local recruits on team
Among the local players on the Blue Storm roster are former East St. Louis standout Kenny Roberson and Anfirnee Wilkinson, who played at Collinsville, as well as 6-foot-5 Tra-Ron Allen, of Granite City, and high-scoring former Class 1A standout Teddy Fifer, who played his high school basketball at Metro-East Lutheran.
Roberson, although battling injuries in the preseason, is a hard-nosed 6-1 guard who can play inside and outside. Like so many of his new teammates, the former Flyers starter has been slow to adapt to the college game.
“Kenny is one of those kids who wants to be good and just plays so hard. It’s just that his progress has been slow too because he’s missed some time with injuries,” Harrington said. “The kid out of Granite City (Allen) is another one who has talent, but hasn’t adapted to the college game yet. We think they’ve started to turn the corner though. At least, that’s what we’re hoping.”
Out of area recruits
Thought to be one of SWIC’s top recruits in more than a decade, 6-4 Asante Patterson leads a group of top players from around the nation brought in by Harrington and veteran associate head coach Steve Campo for the season.
A native of Phoenix (Ariz.), Patterson is a gifted athlete who can score both inside and outside, Harrington said. Patterson scored a state tournament record 51 points in a game last season. Other guard-forwards recruited by the Blue Storm are Aumonie Armond (6-4), Derrion Cliff (6-0), Daelyn Franklin (6-0), Darrin Jenkins (6-1) and Sekou Sangare (6-4).
Highly touted Naeem Freeman is a 6-6 swengman out of Indianapolis, while Luke Davis (6-9), Paul Hepburn (6-8), Jaalam Hill (6-7), and Kristopher Williams (6-8) round out the Blue Storm’s list of forwards and centers.