The NCAA Division II basketball teams will be keeping a sharp eye on the University of Southern Indiana Screaming Eagles 2003-04.
USI, who was 25-7 overall last season, reemerged as one of the top teams in the country with their seventh sweet 16 appearance in nine seasons in 2002-03. This season, USI is hungry to take the next step -- advancing to the NCAA II Elite Eight.
The USI men's basketball program has won at least 20 games each season since 1992-93 and averaged 25 victories a year since 1993-94. USI,
with a record of 278-61 (.820) over 11 seasons, also has produced 10 NCAA II Tournament appearances, the 1995 NCAA II National Championship team, the 1994 NCAA II Finalist team, four Great Lakes Valley Conference Championships, and five GLVC Tournament appearances.
USI head coach Rick Herdes will lead a veteran squad into action in 2003-04. During his first two years, Herdes' teams have produced 47 victories against only 15 defeats for a .758 winning percentage.
Although USI is returning seven players from last season's squad, Herdes' first obstacle will be to replace three starters and a top reserve. One of the starters was the team's leading scorer, Diond're Givens, who averaged 14.6 ppg. Givens, combined with the other departing players, leaves a hole of 43.4 ppg for Herdes to replace.
Stepping up into the leadership role will be 6'4" senior forward/center Billy Harris (Carbondale, Illinois) and 6'1" junior guard Cris Brunson (Evansville, Indiana). Harris, a second team All-GLVC and NCAA II Great Lakes Regional All-Tournament performer, led the Eagles on the boards with 7.5 rpg while ranking third on the team with 13.0 ppg. Brunson, who ranked eighth nationally in free throw percentage, was second on the team with 13.2 ppg and led the squad with 66 three-point field goals.
Challenging for more playing time in 2003-04 is 6'6" senior forward Clarence Chillers (Chicago, Illinois) and 6'8" senior center/forward Reque Newsome (St. Petersburg, Florida). Chillers, who was GLVC All-Tournament after shooting an amazing 93.3 percent from the field (14-15), recorded 8.5 ppg and 5.8 rpg in 29 games. He also averaged 12.6 ppg in the final five games of 2002-03.
Newsome came on slowly last year after breaking his foot in the preseason to average 6.7 ppg and 4.0 rpg off the bench.
On every championship team, there are players who make the team successful by filling a role. The Eagles have three of these in 6'1" senior guard Mike Arnold (Indianapolis, Indiana), 6'8" senior center Travis Farmer (Wadesville, Indiana), and 6'1" junior guard Ayton Branch (Bloomfield, New Jersey).
Arnold and Branch were a part of the "second team" in USI's five-man rotation a year ago. Arnold averaged 2.5 ppg and recorded 23 steals as a junior, while Branch dropped in 2.1 ppg. Farmer saw action in 23 games last season in the frontcourt that was sometimes thin due to injuries.
The most exciting part of the USI program in 2003-04 may be the return to
the court of four redshirts. Back to game action will be 6'9" senior
forward/center John Oden (St. Louis, Missouri), a transfer from DePaul
University; 5'7" senior guard Avery Queen (Moreno Valley, California),
a transfer from the University of Michigan; 6'2" senior guard Joe Gordon
(Palm Bay, Florida), a transfer from the University of Miami; and 5'11"
sophomore guard Scott May (Bloomington, Indiana), a transfer from
While his two-year numbers at DePaul would not knock anyone over, Oden will have a chance to become one of the most dominating players in the GLVC this year. "We have had some very dominating frontcourt players at USI," said Herdes. "John's dominating presence inside and his athletic ability puts him on the same level as former national players of the year like Chris Bowles and Stan Gouard."
Queen led the Wolverines in assists two straight seasons and gives USI its first true point guard in two seasons. Gordon, who has been out of the collegiate game since 2001, should quickly return to a form that allowed him to average 6.4 ppg in the Big East. "Avery should be ready to go this fall after practicing with us during the spring semester," said Herdes. "Gordon, who averaged 27 points a game at Brevard (Junior College), is one of the most prolific shooters I've seen and will be exciting for our fans to watch."
Also new to the squad in 2003-04 will be three freshmen.
Returning to the squad after sitting out 2002-03 is 6'4" redshirt freshman forward Carroll Coffman (Hanson, Kentucky), who averaged 17.5 ppg and 6.1 rpg as a senior at Hopkins County High School in 2001-02, and 6'1" redshirt freshman Jed Davis (Grayville, Illinois), who averaged 14.0 ppg as a senior for Grayville High School.
Geoff Van Winkle (Ferdinand, Indiana), a 6'6"
freshman guard/forward who signed with USI last fall, averaged 17.6 ppg and
set the Forest Park High School career scoring record of 1,271 points and 187
three-point field goals in four seasons. Van Winkle also helped the Rangers to
a 23-5 record and an appearance in the Indiana Class 2A state finals.
New from the junior college ranks is 6'3" junior guard Aaron Austin (Chicago, Illinois) and 6'9" junior forward Randy Holbrook (St. Louis, Missouri). Austin, a former teammate of Newsome at Central Florida Community College, averaged 13.0 ppg and 6.0 rpg as a sophomore in 2001-02.
As a sophomore at Odessa in 2001-02, Holbrook averaged 10 points and eight rebounds per contest and ranked in the top 10 for NJCAA forwards. He started his collegiate career at Odessa by averaging 7.0 points and 4.8 rebounds as a freshman.
The curtain will rise on the 2003-04 regular season for USI when Lincoln University visits the
Physical Activities Center on Saturday, November 22. Fans will be able to get
an early look at the Screaming Eagles with exhibition games on Saturday,
November 1, when they play former USI coach Bruce Pearl and the University of
Wisconsin-Milwaukee in Milwaukee.
For the first time since the 1996-97 season, the Eagles will be hosting a home classic at the PAC. The Sprint PCS/USI Challenge, which is on Friday and Saturday, December 19-20, will feature the Eagles and the University of Indianapolis taking on Ferris State University and the University of North Alabama.
In addition to Lincoln and the USI Challenge on the non-conference schedule, the Eagles host Oakland City University on Tuesday, November 25; Henderson State University on Wednesday, December 10; the University of Illinois-Springfield on Saturday, December 13; and Tusculum College on Monday, December 29. Henderson State is coming off of a 30-5 campaign, reaching the finals of the NCAA Division II South Regional in 2002-03.
The 2003-04 GLVC campaign starts on the road for the second straight season, beginning at Bellarmine University on Saturday, November 29. This road trip also includes a visit to the Sportscenter to play Kentucky Wesleyan College on Monday, December 1. The first conference home game for the Eagles will not be until Friday, January 2, when Lewis University comes to the PAC.
Lewis will be the first of four NCAA II Tournament teams to visit the PAC after January 1. Kentucky Wesleyan journeys across the Ohio River on Thursday, January 15; followed by Northern Kentucky University on Thursday, February 5; and Indianapolis on Saturday, February 28. The top five teams in the GLVC had a combined overall record of 122-36 and a home record of 66-8 in 2002-03.