After leading the Truman State University basketball program the past four years, Chris Foster had a good idea what he was looking at when he was hired to take over the McKendree University Bearcats earlier this year.
At McKendree, which like Truman State is a member of the Great Lakes Valley Conference, Foster is taking over a program that was 3-15 in league play a year ago and has won just 12 of 54 GLVC games during the past three years.
Foster would also be taking over the Bearcats program from legendary coach Harry Statham, who in his 52 years with the Bearcats had 1,122 career victories, the most ever for a college basketball coach, men’s or women’s, at a four-year school.
‘“Obviously I have a great deal of respect and admiration for what coach Statham did here and for his legacy. I want to honor that as best that I can. I’m going to run the program the way he, our university and our community can be proud of,” Foster said.
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“As far as putting pressure on myself. I always put pressure on myself to run a successful program. Not from the situation that I’m in or anything like that. I expect to be successful and I want it for the university, the program and most of all I want it for the kids.”
Bearcats enter season deep and experienced
Foster, who led Truman State to 83 wins in four years as head coach, is pleased by what he has in his first McKendree squad. All 11 players who had eligiibilty remaining returned to the program this season. Those 11 players, along with the five newcomers to the program have given the Bearcats a deep and experienced team.
But also one that is learning a new system from a new coaching staff.
““It’s been great so far. We’ve thrown a lot of new stuff at these guys and they have worked extremely hard and they’ve picked up on things. The attitude and work ethic has been more than I could ask for,” Foster said. “We have a long way to go but I’m very happy with where we’re at right now.”
McKendree is currently 0-2 after losing both games at the GLVC/GLIAC Crossover Challenge. in Marquette, Mich. The Bearcats lost to Northern Michigan 93-70 then lost to Michigan Tech 75-67.
The Bearcats willl play their home opener at the Harry M. Statham Sports Center against Union Uinversity at 7 p.m. Tuesday.
Foster said the Bearcats are playing several NCAA Division II teams in order to get them ready for the wars in the GLVC. Conference foe Bellarmine was the preseason NCAA Division II top-ranked team in the nation.
““That’s what we try to do. We try to get some more NCAA division II teams in there,” Foster said. “The GLVC is such a good league that we want to play some good non-conference teams to kind of get us prepared for that.
“You’ve got your teams that are always up there near the top. What I think has happened in the last couple of years is that some of the other teams in the GLVC have gotten better and so its not as top heavy as it used to be. I think there is more parity now, which is exciting. We want to be part of that mix.”
Foster said that McKendree will continue to play a wide open style of offense. But like anything with a new system and new coaching staff, it will take time for the Bearcats to hit their stride.
“We like to get up and down the floor and score a lot of points. We run motion which is a very unselfish style of play. We’ve spent a lot of time with the guys, trying to get them comfortable. It’s still a work in progress,’’ Foster said. “On defense I think we could very, very good. We’ve got good athletes and guys that we can move around so that we can take away option one and two and make teams use that third and fourth option to beat us.
“It will take a few more weeks before we iron out the kinks and head into conference play.’’
And while the ultimate goal is to win games, Foster just wants to see improvement from day to day from his first Bearcats squad.
“Our focus is to get better everyday and we can’t let the results detour us from the path that we’re on.,’’ Foster said. “I think that if we can continue to improve each day then the attitudes will remain positive and the results will take care of themselves.’’