A little more than three weeks into practice, Southeast Missouri State University men's basketball coach Gary Garner likes the way his team is progressing -- and he looks forward to seeing the Indians play against outside competition for the first time.
Garner won't have to wait long for that as Division II Missouri-Rolla visits the Show Me Center Saturday for a 7 p.m. exhibition game, the first of two exhibition contests for the Indians before they open the regular season Nov. 22 at Arkansas State. There will be no admission charge for either of the exhibitions.
"Practices are going as well as can be expected. Overall, they're going pretty good," Garner said Monday. "I think we're doing well for this time of year, but I can't emphasize enough how much we need to keep improving. That's the important thing."
The Indians, who suffered through a dismal 6-22 season last year, return five players who started at least 12 games, led by their two leading scorers: sophomore guard Derek Winans (14.9 points per game) and senior forward Tim Scheer (13.4 ppg).
Hale makes big strides
While Garner said all of Southeast's key returning players have been performing well in practice, he believes the Indians' most improved player from last season just might be sophomore guard Brett Hale (9.3 ppg), the squad's third-leading returning scorer.
"Brett has really improved," Garner said. "He's gotten a lot more aggressive. He's quicker and stronger. I hope his shot continues to go in. If it does, he'll be hard to guard.
"Tim is really shooting the ball well, Derek and Kevin Roberts are playing well, and Damarcus Hence and Demetrius King are playing better."
Senior guard King (7.0 ppg) and junior swingman Hence (6.1 ppg) both saw plenty of starting action last year while sophomore guard Roberts (1.7 ppg) also received considerable playing time.
Another returnee, sophomore center Adam Crader (1.2 ppg), played sparingly last year but Garner said he was starting to make his mark before suffering a sprained ankle that has sidelined him for about the past week.
"Adam was really starting to come on," Garner said.
The coach has been particularly impressed with junior-college transfer Brandon Griffin, who will start at center.
"He reminds me of Bud Eley, the way he passed the ball from the center spot. That's the hardest pass to make, but Brandon has great vision," Garner said. "I think he can score enough and he's our best rebounder. He's going to help us quite a bit."
Southeast's other key junior-college transfer, forward Reggie Golson, still has not practiced as he continues to recover from minor knee surgery.
Garner said Golson is coming along well but is still at least about a week away from being cleared to practice and he probably won't see any game action until the University Hoops Classic is New Orleans beginning Nov. 28.
"Reggie is probably our most talented player. We need him back," Garner said. "The trainers say he's doing well so hopefully we'll have him back soon."
The third member of Southeast's recruiting class is freshman forward Cole Grapperhaus, who figures to add depth off the bench.
"When Adam got hurt, we moved Cole to the post and he's looked more comfortable there," Garner said. "We'll use him some there and work him into the four (power forward) spot. I think he can eventually be a pretty good player for us."