I humbly request permission to talk a little college basketball in July.
The .500 Cardinals are nearing the start of their second half, and every angle is being dissected as the All-Star break ends.
The Blues are still on parade, and we are wondering if Pat Maroon will be back.
The college football season is knocking at the door. Talkin' Season (shout-out to Steve Spurrier) truly begins Monday, when SEC media days kick off in Birmingham.
Only college hoops junkies are hungry for their favorite topic at the moment. I get it. But after a recent conversation with SLU men's basketball coach Travis Ford, I found myself fired up. Ford lives, eat, sleeps, breathes college ball. His energy is contagious, and his optimism surrounding his latest batch of Billikens is both apparent and worth sharing. Half of SLU's summer workouts are in the books. Ford was eager to share what he has learned.
"You don't say this lightly, and you don't say it all the time, but they have just been a joy to work with," Ford said. "Their attitudes. How they have come in and been wide-open to learning and being a part of our team. They have done whatever we have asked, with incredible attitude and character. And they have all kind of shined in their different areas. Every one of them seems to be totally different in their strengths."
Here's what I learned about some of SLU's hardwood newcomers during this week's radio interview with Ford on The Big Sports Show:
• Freshman guard Gibson Jimerson is, according to Ford, the best knock-down shooter the Billikens have had since Ford became the coach of the Billikens. Don't read that wrong. Ford didn't say the 6-foot-6 Jimerson was going to be the best shooter. He said Jimerson was the best shooter right now, as is. We will see how that changes in games against college competition, but it sounds like SLU might have landed a sniper. Jimerson was one of the most efficient shooters in Nike's popular and competitive EYBL (Elite Youth Basketball League) summer circuit, where he shot 46 percent from 3-point range. Remember that SLU went 23-13 and won the A-10 Tournament despite ranking near the bottom of the barrel among Division I teams last season when it came to 3-pointers made per game (5.7) and 3-point percentage (.304). Having a reliable deep threat would be a game-changer.
• Freshman point guard Yuri Collins is a throwback PG. "Old-school," Ford said. The Billikens knew the St. Louis native had promising point-guard intangibles. He's both quick and fast — there's a difference — with a great first step and an ability to see passing lanes before his peers. "He makes everybody around him better," Ford said. "He always seems to make the right play, passing." What has surprised Ford early on is Collins' ability to score on top of facilitating scoring.
• Freshman forward Terrence Hargrove Jr.'s athleticism is as advertised. The East St. Louis product can rebound above the rim right now. He can improve his scoring, and might be ahead of what most people think in that department. He will be challenged by his coaches to evolve into an elite defender, because he has the potential. (Don't miss P-D colleague Stu Durando's recent story on the local duo of Collins and Hargrove.)
• Freshman forward Jimmy Bell Jr., has pleased Ford with his ability to create scoring chances in the paint. Bell's 6-foot-11 frame weighed 318 pounds when he arrived on campus about a month ago. Now? He's down to 290. And get this: Bell once weighed more than 350 pounds back when he was receiving college recruiting interest as an offensive lineman. "Great hands," Ford said about Bell. "Great feet. He really understands how to use his body and angles in the post to score."
• Ford's first on-court impressions from Javonte Perkins as a Billiken are to-be-determined. The St. Louis native and junior-college transfer from Southwestern Illinois College is still finishing schoolwork and had not yet been with the Billikens for summer workouts. Ford said that should happen soon. The Billikens are in the fourth week of their eight-week summer workout period. Official practices are tentatively slated to begin on Oct. 1.