Most of the attention on Southeast basketball has centered on alleged NCAA rules violations that led to third-year coach Scott Edgar being placed on administrative leave last week.
Edgar is sidelined indefinitely pending the outcome of an NCAA hearing that will take place in late February at the earliest, meaning Edgar virtually is assured of missing the entire season. And his future at Southeast is in jeopardy.
But the Redhawks finally learned Thursday who their leader will be for this season when second-year assistant Zac Roman was named acting coach.
The Redhawks hit the court for the first time as a total unit Friday, the day the NCAA allowed Division I teams to begin practice.
"It was good to finally get started," junior guard Jimmy Drew said. "It gets all that [off-the-court] stuff off your mind.
"There's been a lot put on our team. But we've got a lot of tough guys."
Added senior forward Jaycen Herring, who led Southeast in scoring last year with an average of 13.1 points per game: "We were anxious to get on the floor."
The Redhawks said they have confidence in their coaching staff that includes second-year assistant Rodney Hamilton and first-year assistant Tommy Suitts, a former Division I head coach at Rice and Chicago State.
"They're great coaches. We love playing for them," Herring said.
Added junior forward Calvin Williams: "We've got a lot of faith in the coaches."
Southeast lost 14 of its final 15 games to finish 12-19 overall and 7-13 in the Ohio Valley Conference last season. The Redhawks placed ninth among 11 OVC squads and failed to make the eight-team conference tournament.
Considering that several key players transferred following last season, Southeast's top two recruits did not qualify academically and projected starting point guard Hank Harris suffered a season-ending Achilles tendon injury during a pickup game, those outside the program are expecting another down year for the Redhawks.
Southeast was picked to finish eighth in what is now a 10-team OVC. The Redhawks say they plan on proving the prognosticators wrong.
"Nobody really expects anything out of us," Drew said. "We'll use it as motivation. We've got a lot to prove and we'll play with a chip on our shoulders."
Said Herring: "We're not really worried about that [being picked eighth]. We're just going to let our play speak for it. We're going to work hard and prove everybody wrong."
Williams said the Redhawks have sufficient talent to be successful.
"We're just going to go hard every game," he said. "We feel like we've got enough to get it done."
Roman put the Redhawks through an intense opening practice that lasted about 2 1/2 hours.
"It was a pretty tough first practice. We needed it," Drew said.
Roman came away pleased with what he saw.
"It's going to take time, but I liked their effort a lot," he said.
Southeast will have its first of two home exhibition games Nov. 1 against Missouri Baptist.
The Redhawks' season opener is Nov. 14 at New Mexico.