After being forced to sit out the 2015-2016 postseason, many SMU fans are wondering: will the Mustangs tear through their schedule like last season, playing with a chip on their shoulder? If head coach Tim Jankovich gets his way, that is exactly what the Mustangs will do.
Jankovich and senior forward Ben Moore sat down with Hali Oughton and Mike O’Donnell of the American Digital Network on Monday at AAC men’s basketball media day. Jankovich said finishing the regular season with a 25-5 record and not being allowed to play in the postseason was incredibly painful. With his players recovering from that sort of heartbreak, Jankovich hopes they will use that memory to fuel a fire.
“I hope we play like caged lions that got let out,” Jankovich said.
“I definitely think we have a chip on our shoulder, we’re looking forward to playing in the postseason,” Moore said.
In terms of SMU’s preseason preparations, Jankovich had nothing bad to say about the Mustangs.
“Really good, it’s a great group. I’m proud to coach this team and enjoy them very much,” Jankovich said. “They’re highly motivated. This is a team that’s on the high, high end of wanting to be in the gym before practice, in the morning, after practice. That tells me a lot about their character and how bad they want a great season.”
When asked how he will replace the production of Nic Moore, Jordan Tolbert and Markus Kennedy, Jankovich said he is lucky to have the great group of players he has.
“We’ve had three outstanding years in a row, mainly because we have outstanding players,” Jankovich said. “We’ve got two seniors this year who have won an awful lot of games and have been so important. I know we can count on them. They are great players.”
With Nic Moore, Tolbert and Kennedy no longer pounding the hardwood in Moody Coliseum, Moore said he and fellow senior Sterling Brown are trying their best to live up to the standards set by last year’s seniors.
“They were great players,” Moore said. “Great leaders. We’re just trying to uphold the principles they held.”
Jankovich said that while he will miss getting to coach last year’s seniors, every year is a new beginning. It is not about losing a player – it is about finding new leaders. With only nine scholarship players on the roster, the Mustangs have become used to the “next man up” mentality.
When one Moore exits, another Moore enters. Jankovich knows Ben has the ability to become a serious contributor this season.
“Heck, he can play one of any five positions really,” Jankovich said. “He can play point guard, and I know people think that’s crazy, but he can. If you want to really play small, not that he has maybe enough girth to play the five, but he certainly has the talent. He’s the guy that can hurt you in so many ways. Sometimes I think he’s under appreciated. I hope he’s respected the way he deserves to be.”
Lots has changed for SMU’s basketball program since last season’s final curtain. A new coach, new faces, new leaders on the court. But much has also stayed the same.
For a team that has arguably faced more adversity than any college basketball team in recent memory, SMU’s resolve is remarkable. The players, coaches and staff all believe a national championship is obtainable. Now it is just a matter of making up for lost time.
“We haven’t talked much about the chip on our shoulder because we’re just kind of putting our team together here in October, late September,” Jankovich said. “But the chip on the shoulder talk will begin soon. I hope we have a giant chip.”
Media Day Notes:
- Jankovich noted Nic Moore’s contributions to the program over the past three seasons, calling him “one of the greatest winners I’ve ever been around in all my years that I coached.”
- Jankovich said Duke transfer Semi Ojeleye is going to be a “big weapon” for SMU this season, noting Ojeleye’s strength, three-point shooting, and his ability to drive the ball.
- AAC commissioner Mike Aresco on Moody Coliseum: “What happened at SMU became a phenomenon. It’s almost like a mini Cameron Indoor. I’ve been there a few times, I haven’t heard a louder place anywhere.”
- American Digital Network’s Mike O’Donnell on SMU’s outlook for this season: SMU has “natural motivation” after last season’s postseason ban.
- AAC associate commissioner Nate Pomeday on his favorites for this season: “SMU had such a good year last year, I think they’re going to be right at the top.”