Ishee's coaching merits consideration for hiring

Sunday, January 14, 2007

I have no idea what kind of individual the Southeast Missouri State administration has in mind to fill its head women's basketball coaching vacancy.

But, even though the Redhawks had their eight-game winning streak snapped Saturday at Austin Peay, the more I see them play and the more I see acting head coach John Ishee direct the team, the more I'm thinking Southeast officials won't have to look very far to find B.J. Smith's replacement.

In fact, if the Redhawks continue their strong season -- and considering they only have one senior starter -- I don't really see how the university can afford not to promote Ishee to permanent status.

Talk about holding down the fort under trying circumstances and helping elevate the Redhawks to a level of play that hardly anybody expected.

Ishee, along with great help from his assistants, has been able to do just that.

First of all, many people thought the Redhawks would take a considerable fall after they lost most of their top players from last year's NCAA tournament squad.

Then Smith was suspended before the season -- with first-year assistant Ishee taking over -- and resigned several games into the campaign.

It could have been a recipe for disaster. Instead, the inexperienced Redhawks have thrived, although they hit a bump in the road Saturday as they fell to 11-5 overall and 6-2 in Ohio Valley Conference play.

The Redhawks are tied for second place in the OVC, just one game behind Murray State, after being picked fifth in the preseason poll.

Sure, the players deserve a lion's share of the credit, because they're the ones making it happen on the court. But Ishee and his staff also deserve a healthy portion of the kudos.

With 12 conference games remaining, the course of Southeast's season has yet to be determined, although even if the Redhawks don't win the OVC regular-season title, it's hard for me to imagine -- based on what I've seen so far -- them not at least finishing in the top three or four, which would give them a legitimate shot at the league tournament crown.

And if the Redhawks do wind up toward the front of the standings, you've got to think they'll be one of the OVC favorites next season, considering rebounding machine Lachelle Lyles is their only senior starter.

There is even a chance Lyles will be granted one more year of eligibility by the NCAA, since she missed all but one game of her junior college season prior to transferring to Southeast.

With Lyles back, the Redhawks would really be loaded in 2007-08. Even without her, they would still be plenty salty.

The things I've written so far are all fairly compelling arguments for Ishee becoming Southeast's permanent head coach, especially since such a seasoned returning squad would not have to adjust to a new system next year.

And it's not like Ishee is just some inexperienced young coach who wandered in off the street for his first go-round this season.

Ishee has previous head coaching experience at the Division II and NAIA levels, and he was a top assistant at Mississippi of the Southeastern Conference and Southern Mississippi, which made the NCAA Sweet 16 with him as the squad's primary recruiter.

It should also help Ishee in the eyes of Southeast officials that he was not on the Redhawks' staff the past few years, so he played no role in the turmoil and controversy surrounding Smith.

Will Ishee ultimately be the person Southeast chooses to lead the program in the future? Your guess is as good as mine.

But continued success by the Redhawks should make it harder and harder for the university to pass him by.

Not that fans need any extra incentive to support Southeast's women, considering the impressive season they've had so far, but this coming Saturday will be a special night at the Show Me Center.

Southeast will finally raise the banners for last year's OVC regular-season and tournament titles, along with the NCAA tournament berth.

The ceremony will take place between the women's and men's games against Tennessee Tech.

Members of last year's team will attend, and here's hoping Smith also is on hand.

Even though Smith is no longer associated with the program, he helped make what the Redhawks accomplished last season reality instead of simply a dream.

Even though Southeast's men had their three-game winning streak snapped Saturday night at Austin Peay, things are looking up for the Redhawks, who seem to finally be adjusting to first-year coach Scott Edgar's system.

The Redhawks were shorthanded against the Govs, with starting center Mike Rembert serving a one-game OVC suspension after he was ejected from Monday's game at Murray State and starting guard Terrick Willoughby missing his second straight contest with mono.

At full strength, Southeast just might have posted its fourth consecutive victory. As it was, the Redhawks battled the favored Govs to the wire before falling short by one point.

Still, the Redhawks have put together some strong performances lately, with three double-digit wins prior to Saturday, including especially impressive triumphs at Eastern Kentucky and Murray State.

Considering six of Southeast's next eight OVC games are at the Show Me Center, the Redhawks are right in the thick of the hunt for a top-four finish, which would mean a home game for the first round of the OVC tournament.

And you've got to think the Redhawks' recent play will translate into much bigger crowds at the Show Me Center, starting with Thursday's game against Tennessee State.

Marty Mishow is a sports writer for the Southeast Missourian.

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