There’s plenty of room in the stands at Chaifetz Arena.
How about above the north sideline, hovering near section 205?
Here you can find the first two Billikens basketball banners from the Travis Ford era. A one-time trip to the NCAA tournament in 2019. An Atlantic 10 tournament championship that made it possible.
This is it. This.
Time for a newer one. An older one. Season seven should and should be a banner year for the Ford team.
Ford doesn’t shout it from the Midtown rooftops, but he knows what we know. This must be his best team. The evidence was even evident in Monday night’s exhibition against UMSL coach Bob Sundold’s tough Tritons, which SLU won 81-58.
The Billikens are full of talent, full of experience and motivated to be better than good.
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Big teams have big guards. They have seasoned starters. They can get to the basket and shoot well from outside. They go up and defend with intensity. They are fueled not by preseason accolades — SLU was seeded second in the Atlantic 10 to Dayton — but by a determination to become the kind of statement this bunch wears on the back of their new warm-up jerseys: “The journey is the same. Award.”
We’ll see where this journey leads, but make no mistake. The Ford team has the parts to go anywhere. Need more proof? About this piece from the sport’s bible, Chris Dortch’s Blue Ribbon College Basketball Yearbook.
“It’s hard to look at this team and not see big things,” the publication said. St. Louis is deep, experienced and talented. It’s a very good combination.”
Point guard Yuri Collins was rightly named to the Bob Cousy Award watch list Monday along with other nominees for top point guard in the national honor. If he cuts some of his turnovers, he can win it. Credit goes to SLU athletics sponsors for playing the name, image and likeness to keep Collins here. Tennessee came after him hard last season. he stayed The investment will pay dividends.
Javonte Perkins didn’t play Monday because there’s no reason to rush the ankle injury he’s been dealing with, but he’s back from a season-ending knee injury that sent Ford’s sixth-seeded team on the brink of the bubble. The NCAA tournament turned. . Perkins no longer has to lead the team every night. His team got better as he got better. He just has to help and he will.
Like veteran guard Fred Tuch, big man Francis Okoro improved as he progressed last season. Okoro quietly had double-doubles in five of the Billikens’ last eight games last season, despite the two teams he requested.
Gibson Jimerson, who ranked third in the A-10 in scoring last season, is tougher to guard because of more threats around him. He shot 42 percent from 3-point range last season. It will work and can be improved now.
Here’s another name that should help this long-range game: Honest Parker. The college student transfer shot is synonymous with his first name—that’s right. On Monday night, he hit his first 3-pointer of the game in an SLU uniform to score 11 points in four minutes. Parker finished with 15 points for the Bills, tied with Jimerson for the team lead.
If Perkins goes back to being Perkins and Parker can score like this, watch out.
Javon Pickett Javon Pickett quietly led Missouri in scoring in SEC play last season. Like Tuch and Collins, he is a relentless defender. Don’t sleep on his potential for this group. Had he played for SLU last season and duplicated the scoring he scored in the SEC, he would have tied Collins for second-best on the team behind Jimerson’s 16.3.
Ford started Collins, Pickett, Touche, Jimerson and Okoro on Monday. That lineup could change based on Perkins’ health and the name of the bench (Parker!) moving forward. High-flying Terrence Hargrove Jr. has to tear down the boards in anger. Jake Forrester adds depth to the frontcourt by moving the power forward to Temple. Two impressive freshmen — Kellan Thames and Larry Hughes Jr. — can help, but only in the best way. There is no role waiting for them. They have to take the roles from someone else. An internal rivalry should be simmering in this division all season long. Iron sharpens iron.
We must mention two conditions.
Key starters must stay healthy and the bad luck must dissipate.
SLU has paid enough of a misery tax in recent seasons. Perkins’ knee injury last season. Covid passed through SLU twice in the previous two seasons, ruining the offensive flow after the outbreak in 2020-21 and canceling the A-10 and NCAA tournaments in 2019-20 after the Billikens went six games. They won their last seven games. . Matching the look of the 2019 NCAA Tournament should not be the goal now. It should be the beginning of the goal. Otherwise, Ford has underperformed with its best team.
Yes, Dayton is also good and full of talent. But the Billikens do not have the seasoning of the young flyers. Better take advantage now, because Flyers will grow fast.
During Ford’s six seasons, the Billikens have become a team that appears to be one season away from its breakout season.
If it’s going to happen, now is the time.