Ford’s seventh season at SLU needs to become banner year for Billikens basketball

There is plenty of room in the Chaifetz Arena rafters.

How about above the suspended north side near Section 205?

That’s where you’ll find the first two Billikens basketball banners of the Travis Ford era. A one-and-done trip to the NCAA Tournament in 2019. One Atlantic 10 tournament that made it possible.

that’s it. that’s all.

Time for a new one. A big one. Season seven should be a banner year for Ford’s team, and it should be.

Ford may not be taking it from the rooftops of Midtown, but he knows what we know. This must be his best team. Even in Monday night’s exhibition against UMSL coach Bob Sundvold’s stoic Triton, the evidence was evident in SLU’s 81-58 victory.

The Billikens are loaded with talent, loaded with experience and driven by a desire to get better.

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Great teams have great defenders. They have experienced starters. They can get to the basket and shoot well from outside. They rebound and defend with intensity. They’re motivated not by preseason accolades — SLU finished second in the Atlantic 10, behind Dayton — but by a determination to make true the slogan this bunch wears on the back of its new hot shirts: “The journey is the reward.”

We’ll see where this journey goes, but make no mistake. Ford’s team has pieces to go places. Need more proof? About this piece from Chris Dort’s Blue Ribbon College Basketball Yearbook, The Bible of the Game.

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“It’s hard to look at this team and not see big things,” the release reads. “St. Louis is deep, experienced and talented. It is a very good combination. “

On Monday point guard Yuri Collins was rightly named to the Bob Cousy Award watch list along with other candidates for the nation’s best point guard honor. If he cuts some of his turnovers, he can win. Credit goes to SLU athletics supporters for playing the name, image and likeness game to keep Collins here. Tennessee came hard for him this past offseason. He stayed. The investment will pay dividends.

Javonte Perkins didn’t play Monday because there’s no reason to rush this ankle injury he’s dealing with, but he’s coming back from last year’s season-ending knee injury that turned Ford’s sixth-ranked team on the sad side of the NCAA Tournament bubble. . Perkins no longer has to lead the team every night. When he got better, his team got better. He must contribute, and he will contribute.

Like veteran guard Fred Thatch, big man Francis Okoro improved as last season progressed. Despite the double teams he demanded, Okoro quietly produced double-doubles in five of the Billikens’ final eight games last season.

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Gibson Jimerson, who finished third in the A-10 in scoring last season, should be more difficult to defend because of the threats around him. He shot 42% from 3-point range last season. It will work, it can be improved now.

Here’s another name that should help with that long game: Honest Parker. The junior college transfer is synonymous with his first name – Truth. On Monday night, the first-game 3-pointer he hoisted while in an SLU uniform sparked an 11-point flurry in four minutes. Parker shared the team lead with Jimerson with 15 points for the Bills.

If Perkins gets back to being Perkins and Parker can score like this, watch out.

Transfer arrival Javon Pickett quietly led Missouri in scoring in SEC play last season. Like Thatch and Collins, he is a relentless defender. Don’t sleep on his potential for this team. Had he played for SLU last season and repeated the points he scored in the SEC, he would have tied Collins for second-highest on the team behind Jimerson’s 16.3.

Ford started Collins, Pickett, Thatch, Jimerson and Okoro on Monday. That lineup could change depending on Perkins’ health and bench names (Parker!) at push forward. High-flying Terrence Hargrove Jr. wants to crash the boards in anger. Dynamic Temple transfer Jake Forrester adds frontcourt depth. Two impressive rookies – Kellen Thames and Larry Hughes Jr. – are capable of helping, but in the best way. There are no roles waiting for them. They have to take roles from someone else. An internal rivalry in this bunch should simmer throughout the season. Iron sharpens iron.

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We need to specify two conditions.

Major starters need to stay healthy and rattle unfortunately.

SLU has paid its fair share of bad luck in recent times. Perkins’ knee injury last season. In the two seasons before that, COVID cut through SLU twice, ruining an offensive streak after the 2020-21 outbreak and canceling the A-10 and NCAA Tournaments in 2019-20, after the Billikens won six of their last seven games. Matching a 2019 NCAA Tournament appearance shouldn’t be the goal now. That should be the beginning of the goal. Otherwise, Ford will still underperform with his best team.

Yes, Dayton is also full of good and talent. But the Billikens have the flavor the young Flyers don’t. Better take advantage now, because fliers will grow fast.

Through six seasons of the Ford era, the Billikens have become a team that seems one season away from its big win.

If that happens, now is the time.


Inside the daily contest of SLU basketball players taking home the practice championship belt


Travis Ford expresses disappointment with SLU's basketball exhibition performance

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