With election season out of the way, it’s time to focus on basketball again.
The strangest team in the Gulf South Conference on a yearly basis is Henderson State. The Reddies are usually loaded with physical talent, but they don’t always put together a good season. They’re up next in my series of season previews.
Last year was a decent season by most programs’ standards, but 15-12 doesn’t cut it at Henderson State. They don’t have a big fan base, but they do have a long history of success, and I’m sure it’s not easy for the fans to stomach such a volatile team. In the conference tournament, they lost to West Georgia, with whom they had split two “non-conference” games. Coming into the season, I wouldn’t have expected them to make it to that point, but that’s not the level of success that people expect at HSU.
The Reddies managed to put things together during the conference season, at least enough to make it into the conference tournament as the #4 seed from the West. At 10-6, they had a good run during a tough year in the division, and they were actually slightly more predictable than I expected. They had one bad loss to SAU in January, but otherwise they beat the teams that finished below them, while they couldn’t beat Delta State or UAM.
Statistically, Henderson State played like they looked: they were a big, physical team. They played slow, nasty games (their 60.6 pace factor was easily the lowest in the division), and they had no trouble rebounding the ball. They pulled down a third more rebounds on the offensive side than they allowed of their opponents, and they were fantastic defensively. They were the only team in the conference to hold opponents to a sub-50 true shooting percentage (48.3), but they didn’t shoot all that well themselves, which led to some very low-scoring games. In terms of turnovers, they struggled a bit on their own end, but their style of defense mostly made up for it.
The top performers from 05-06 were Kelvin Brown and Dedric Spooner, who were productive big men, especially with rebounding. Brown also had an exceedingly high usage rate of 28.1, leading the team by a huge margin. The top shooter was wingman Brandon Daniels, even though he didn’t put up as many shots as guard Donte Norton. Daniels made 16 of 32 threes but only played about 17 minutes per game. Ryan Johnson was the other big minute-eater, and that’s about all I can say for him.
Most of the high-PER guys and high-PT guys are gone, which could mean a number of things. On the one hand, the Reddies will no longer devote 30 minutes to watching Ryan Johnson attempt to shoot, but they’ll also be losing a lot of skill up front. Spooner and Brown are both gone, along with fellow post man Randy George, leaving huge shoes to fill on the inside. Brandon Daniels is also gone, even though he was only listed as a junior last year. Levi Harris, who played only sparingly and didn’t handle or shoot well, is also gone.
Who’s Coming Back?
Here are the top returning players by PER:
- Dee Dee Drake – 20.33
- Brock Spurlock – 11.08
- Donte Norton – 8.92
- Marques Collins – 4.48
- Antoine Vinson – 3.86
- Justin Udell – -1.36 (that’s negative)
One of these is not like the others, and by that, I mean that one of these players is good. Demontrian (Dee Dee) Drake really came on strong during the conference season, becoming a great rebounder and solid scorer on the inside. He also took on more of a role in the offense as the season progressed, and he finished with the team’s third-highest usage rate at 19.5.
Norton played 29 minutes per game and just wasn’t very good. He was a good rebounder for a 6’3″ guard, but he put up way too many three-point shots, and his turnovers totally mitigated his offensive value. He is, however, a solid defender, and was certainly part of HSU’s strength there.
Neither Vinson nor Collins could shoot or handle the ball, which is a problem, since last year they essentially played 40 minutes per game combined. If their roles increase and they don’t get better, Henderson State will have problems.
Spurlock and Udell amassed their stats in just 2 minutes per game, and they only played in 15 combined games, so I would heavily discount those PERs for them.
Introducing the new guys
Senior transfer Tyler Hughes headlines this class, and as is the custom with Henderson State transfers, he has a criminal record. I’m only halfway kidding about that. Hughes was dismissed from the team at Kansas State after his name appeared on a registered sex offender list, so he turned to the Reddies, who seem to attract players with similar backgrounds. Even though HSU is a rival, I’m not proud to write this about their team. It’s an embarrassment to Division II sports. As for his basketball ability, I don’t really know much. He shot well at K-State, but he played so little that it’s hard to discern much about his ability. At 6’11” and 250 pounds, he will be a size mismatch across the conference, and his Big 12 background suggests that he should be at least moderately successful in the GSC, if not great.
Fellow senior transfer Ryan Price doesn’t come from as great a school as Hughes, nor does he share his criminal background (at least to my knowledge). However, he is also an experienced D-I player, having played significant minutes at McNeese State in the Southland Conference. He did not shoot well at all there, nor did he show great handles, so it remains to be seen how his ability will translate to the GSC.
Guard Wes Durrant is the third senior D-I transfer at HSU, and he’s the one I know the least about. He played sparingly at MTSU in the Sun Belt Conference, but it can’t be a bad thing to have attended a D-I school. I guess when he’s playing in front of 400 people at home it’ll just be a big change.
Brandon Montgomery transferred sideways in the GSC (and literally across the street) from Ouachita Baptist. He apparently didn’t play last season, but I think I remember him playing at least some for OBU, maybe as a sixth man type player. Regardless, he’s got experience and will provide the team with some depth and (presumably) leadership.
In addition to these seniors, HSU picked up three junior JC transfers, two from UA-Ft. Smith and one from Clark State College in Ohio. It was virtually impossible to find out information about any of them, especially forward Mike Phelps, who shares his name with a relatively famous USA Olympian.
The Reddies will also introduce two incoming freshmen, 6’6″ forward Julius Berry (Waterloo East HS, Cedar Rapids, IA) and 6’2″ forward Jason London from Stuttgart, AR. Berry was a good student in high school, and I bet he was on new coach Sam Weaver’s radar because of Weaver’s tenures at Northern Iowa and Iowa State. I don’t know much about Jason London, but I’m guessing that he doesn’t know my buddy Jace, who graduated from Stuttgart HS. London was all-state in 4A at Stuttgart, but when your name and high school are two large European cities, you don’t show up very high on Google searches. Thus, I don’t know much more.
The Bottom Line
As the recruits and transfers go, so will Henderson State. I would bet on Hughes to be a solid post player, maybe great at times. Price and Durrant may be solid backcourt guys, but it’s hard to tell. I would guess that one will be good and the other will be a bust. Among returnees, Dee Dee Drake should be good again at the forward spot, but the Reddies should hope that guard Donte Norton and bigs Vinson and Collins don’t command too much PT.
Right now, I think the Reddies should be in line to make the GSC Tournament. If this team really turns things around from the past few seasons and begins to work together, they could even be the best. As usual, they have the talent on paper to be great, but it remains to be seen whether they will put it together.