Media day sets stage for Eagle basketball
Published: Tuesday, November 6, 2012
Updated: Tuesday, November 6, 2012 02:11
After a strong showing in the 2012 NCAA Tournament and a high-profile off-season head coaching transition, morale and fan support surrounding the Golden Eagle basketball team are arguably higher than they have been in several years. Wednesday’s media day revealed a strong angst amongst players and coaches to take the court for the season opener on Saturday when Southern Miss hosts Western Kentucky at 7:30 p.m.
“From the day that I took the job, I talked about wanting to sell out the season opener,” said first-year head basketball coach Donnie Tyndall when asked about the season opener. “We want to ‘Fill it To The Top.’ I want there to be overflow in the walkway. Don’t get me wrong, I look forward to every game, but we want it to be electric in the Green House for Western Kentucky.”
Although Southern Miss finished 2012 as the second best team in Conference USA with a 25-9 overall record (11-5 C-USA), expectations should be tempered for this year’s young squad. The team flaunts only four players (Rashard McGill, Jonathan Mills, Neil Watson and Cedric Jenkins) who have logged playing time in Division I basketball and will struggle to replace the six non-returning letter-winners (LaShay Page, Maurice Bolden, Darnell Dodson, Alahjah Franklin, Torye Pelham and Angelo Johnson) from last year’s squad.
“I love expectations,” Tyndall said. “My expectations would be very high. But on the flip side, you’re probably going to have to tweak your goals, especially in year one.”
The Golden Eagles’ schedule also works against them, as only three of their first 13 contests will be played at Reed Green Coliseum. Southern Miss was an outstanding 15-0 at home last season, so it will be crucial for the Golden Eagles to secure early-season victories at home.
This year’s roster includes eight newcomers and only six years of Division I experience as a team. As a result, a great deal of responsibility will be assumed by Preseason All-Conference USA second team member Neil Watson.
“It’s definitely been a difficult role so far,” said Watson when asked of his increased vocal leadership role this season. “I’m not really the vocal type. I can talk to a person, but it’s hard to yell at one of my teammates when they’re doing something wrong, especially being the smallest guy on the court. But Coach Tyndall’s helping me learn that you have to take on that role if you want to be respected as a leader.”
Forward Jonathan Mills is also expected to be a workhorse in the post for the Eagles in his senior campaign, as he recorded 9.5 points per game and 6.1 rebounds per game last season. The Eagles are an undersized team overall, but Tyndall believes Mills will help stabilize the front-court.
“With Jonathan’s girth, he’s about as wide as he is tall,” Tyndall said. “It helps with his physical nature. We list him at 6-6 but he’s probably 6-4. But he’s tough and physical. Lefties always seem to be craftier around the goal than right-handed guys. He obviously can score some balls and find a way to put it in the goal.”
When Southern Miss takes the floor against Western Kentucky, Tyndall will officially enter the 19th chapter in the history of head basketball coaches at Southern Miss. As head coach at Morehead State from 2006 until 2012, he led the team to three NCAA Tournament appearances in his last four years with the program, and he took the team past the first round in 2009 and 2011. Despite the youth of this year’s Southern Miss team, all signs point to him being the right coach at the right time.
“His energy makes you want to be in the gym all the time,” said Watson of Tyndall. “He comes to the gym super excited. It could be Sunday, rainy and a tornado outside, and he’s still going to come in here happy and ready to practice and ready to get better.”