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Winter's return gladdens few hearts here, at least not for those who chill easily. One thing sure to warm a few nights is the return of basketball to Southeast Missouri State University. The Indians and Otahkians have begun their seasons, the second at the NCAA Division I level, and anticipation is building for exciting seasons. A highlight of the early season for the men's team can be found tonight and Saturday when the Indians host the River City Classic. It is an event worth noting.

Southeast has hosted the River City Classic for eight years, and it continues to grow in prestige and fan interest. This year's lineup is especially impressive: Northeast Louisiana University from Monroe, La., Alcorn State University from Lorman, Miss., and Arkansas State University from Jonesboro, Ark., along with the Indians. Southeast, which had captured the tournament crown for six straight years before the 1991 event, plays tonight against Alcorn at 8 p.m. at the Show Me Center.

Not only is fan support important for this event, but corporate assistance also plays a big role in attracting high-caliber opponents. This year's sponsors are Capital Bank, Shop 'N Save and KBSI-Fox 23, and their support truly represents a community investment. Consider this: In 14 home games last year, the Indians drew crowds totaling 75,468, or an average of almost 5,400 a game. These people are not only supporting the athletic programs at the university, they are eating at local restaurants, staying at local motels, patronizing local stores, and so on. University basketball as an attraction is more than just sporting entertainment; it is an economic blessing for Cape Girardeau.

The Indians, coached for the 12th year by Ron Shumate, finished 12-16 last season, a respectable inaugural showing in Division I and the rugged Ohio Valley Conference. This year's squad features a mixture of veterans (seven players return from the 1991-92 squad), junior college transfers (one of whom averaged 22 points a game last year) and promising newcomers (including an international recruit from Turkey). Shumate believes the Indians will be a cohesive and exciting squad, an impression not disproved by Southeast's come-from-behind victory Tuesday over Wisconsin-Green Bay.

The Otahkians, coached for the 10th year by Ed Arnzen, also look to be an improved unit this season. The women's team, 16-12 last year and 7-7 in conference play, returns four of its starters and seven other letter winners. With a year of experience in Division I, plus a less frantic schedule, the Otahkians could be a driving force in the OVC. The crowds and the enthusiasm continue to grow at Otahkian games, and for good reason.

We welcome another season of Southeast basketball. Big-time basketball is being delivered right to our doorstep, not only with this early tournament but for the balance of the season. We wish the Indians and Otahkians continued success in their adjustment to the higher level of Division I play. They offer the potential for an entertaining winter.