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

There’s plenty of room in the Chaifets Arena rafters.

How about above the north sideline, suspended near section 205?

That’s where you can find the first two Billikens basketball banners from the Travis Ford era. One-and-done trip to the NCAA Tournament in 2019. One Atlantic 10 tourney championship that made it possible.

This is it. That’s all.

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

Ford won’t holler it from the rooftops of Midtown, but he knows what we know. This should be his best team. Evidence was evident even in Monday night’s exhibition against UMSL coach Bob Sundvold’s tenacious Tritons, which SLU won 81-58.

The Billikens are teeming with talent, loaded with experience and propelled by a desire to be better than just good.

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Great teams have great guards. They have seasoned starters. They can get to the basket and shoot well from the outside. They rebound and defend with intensity. They’re fueled not by preseason praise — SLU was picked second in the Atlantic 10, behind Dayton — but by the determination to turn true the kind of statement the Bunch wears on the back of its new warm-up shirts: “The Journey is the journey. reward.”

We will see where the journey goes, but make no mistake. Ford’s team has the pieces to go places. Need more proof? How about this snippet from the bible of the sport, Chris Dortch’s Blue Ribbon College Basketball Yearbook.

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“It’s hard to look at this team and not see great things,” the publication reads. “Saint Louis is deep, experienced and talented. It’s a pretty good combination.”

Point guard Yuri Collins on Monday was correctly named to the Bob Cousy Award watch list, along with other candidates, for the nation’s best point guard honor. If he cuts down on some of his turnovers, he can win it. Credit goes to SLU athletics backers 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 the ankle injury he’s dealing with, but he’s back from last year’s season-ending knee injury that turned Ford’s sixth-team running back into the Sad side of the NCAA Tournament bubble. Perkins no longer has to lead the team every night. His team was better than he healed. He just needs to contribute, and he will.

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

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Gibson Jimerson, who ranked third in the A-10 in scoring last season, should be tough to guard because of more threats around him. He made 42% from 3-point range last season. This will work, and it may improve now.

Here’s another name that should help that long-range game: Frank Parker. The junior college transfer’s shot is synonymous with his first name — truth. On Monday night, he swished the first in-game 3-pointer he hoisted while wearing an SLU uniform to spark a flurry of 11 points scored in four minutes. Parker finished with 15 points for the Bills, sharing the team lead with Jimerson.

If Perkins gets back to being Perkins, and Parker can score like that, look 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 group. Had he played for SLU last season and repeated the scoring he put up 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. The lineup could change based on Perkins’ health and bench names (Parker!) pushing forward. High-flying Terrence Hargrove Jr. needs to crash the boards with a fury. Energetic Temple transfer Jake Forrester adds frontcourt depth. Two impressive freshmen – Kellen Thames and Larry Hughes Jr. – are able to help, but in the best kind of way. They don’t have roles waiting for them. They have to take roles away from someone else. An internal competition should be brewing in the bunch all season. Iron sharpens iron.

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We need to mention two conditions.

Key starters have to stay healthy, and bad luck has to fade away.

SLU has paid enough disaster tax in recent seasons. Perkins knee injury last season. COVID cut through SLU twice in the two seasons before that, ruining an offensive run after an outbreak in 2020-21, and canceling the A-10 and NCAA tournaments in 2019-20 after the Billikens won six of their last seven games. . Matching the 2019 NCAA Tournament appearance should not be the goal now. It should be the beginning of the goal. If not, Ford will have underperformed with its best team yet.

Yes, Dayton is good and also loaded with talent. But the Billikens have season the youthful Flyers do not. Better take advantage now, because the flyers will continue to grow up quickly.

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

If it’s going to happen, now is the time.


In the daily competition of SLU basketball players to take home the practice champion belt


Travis Ford expresses disappointment in SLU basketball exhibition performance

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