It is exciting to get another season of Southeast basketball underway tonight. We are going into the game shorthanded because of a combination of injuries and short-term ineligibilities, but I know our young men will compete hard against a very good Birmingham-Southern team.
During the preseason we have had as much adversity in a short period of time that I have ever been associated with. I always tell my players that "it is not what happens to you, but how you react to it." That is certainly true for our coaches, players and fans as we enter the 2001-2002 season.
We have some short-term problems but we are going to work through them. I know that I have a group of good kids who are working hard and with great enthusiasm. The problems we are facing will in the end make us stronger people and a stronger team.
I know that you have read or have heard about our players who are ineligible during the first semester and about our injuries. We had planned to start a freshman walk-on, Kevin Roberts, at the point guard in tonight's game, but he sprained his ankle in practice on Wednesday and is very questionable for tonight. That is sort of the way it has been going.
This may all turn out to be a blessing in disguise because a number of our young players are going to play more minutes than we planned on. Once the conference season rolls around and we have our complete roster ready to play, the experience they have gained will be invaluable to us.
We have added football quarterback Bobby Brune to our roster this week to help us inside. He is a good athlete with good size and we appreciate his willingness to play basketball after just completing his football season. That is the type of spirit we need.
Overall, I feel extremely good about the future of our program. Our players are doing well in basketball and in class. Early this season we face some outstanding teams that will be tough, but by the time the OVC season rolls around we should be vastly improved.
At halftime tonight, the OVC Medal of Honor winners from Southeast will be honored and I am proud that two of the honorees will be basketball players. The OVC Medal of Honor goes to the athlete or athletes who have the highest grade-point average in their sport. The basketball players are Matt Morris, who is now a law school student at SIU, and redshirt freshman Derek Winans. They both had 4.0 GPA's for the 2000-2001 school year.
Our opponent tonight is Birmingham-Southern, a new team in the NCAA Division I ranks, but certainly a team that is used to winning. Last season the Panthers were 17-9 and included in their wins was a 20-point road win at Texas A&M of the Big 12 Conference. They lost several of their inside players to graduation, but they return some excellent perimeter players who really apply great pressure defense on opposing guards.
They have a 6-11 redshirt freshman center, Shema Mhyirukira, who had 26 points and 13 rebounds in their exhibition victory and was 3-of-4 from three. Birmingham-Southern is extremely well-coached by Duane Reboul who has a record of 315-71, an average of 26.3 victories per season.
We have a tough task tonight, but with your help I know our young men will give it everything they have. Let's have a great crowd! See you there.
Gary Garner is the head basketball coach at Southeast Missouri State University.