When the calendar turns to June and the temperature climbs close to 100 degrees, it’s usually high time for college basketball coaches to hit a beach. Or a golf course. Maybe both.
Roman Banks, for his part, hasn’t seen either. Behind a heavy door in the lower hallway of the F.G. Clark Activity Center, the new Southern men’s basketball coach is knee-deep in meetings.
In the past week alone, he’s had impromptu chats with players, meeting after meeting with his newly assembled staff and encounters with an untold number of other people associated with the Southern University athletic department.
In other words, the new boss is a little busy.
Then again, he has to be. His program has a lot of catching up to do.
“You have to get everybody acclimated to a new way of life,” Banks said. “You’re concerned about the game of basketball. But right now, we have to be concerned about getting everybody’s eligibility back so we can play the game of basketball.”
Southern went 9-51 in its last two seasons under Rob Spivery, and its historical Academic Progress Rate has Southern in trouble.
The team’s latest score was 852 - well below the NCAA’s target (925) and well below its benchmark for “severe” penalties (900).
The result was an “Occasion Three” penalty - a one-year postseason ban, which will keep SU out of the Southwestern Athletic Conference tournament for the third straight season.
If Southern doesn’t improve, it could be subject to the Occasion Four penalty - a one-year restricted NCAA membership status for every team on campus.
So, yes, Banks has a lot of work to do.
“What people have to understand is, we didn’t get to this point overnight,” Banks said. “And we won’t get out of it overnight.”
To help Banks crawl out of the rubble, Southern has seen fit to give him a staff of three assistants, plus a graduate assistant, plus a director of basketball operations.
Here’s the lineup:
SHELDON JONES: A former Glen Oaks High standout, Jones will be the only coaching holdover from the Spivery era.
Jones played two seasons at Southern University-New Orleans before going into coaching.
Jones started at Western Nebraska Junior College and later served under Rickey Broussard at Nicholls State. While there, he was largely responsible for recruiting guard Ronnie Price, who just finished his fourth season with the NBA’s Utah Jazz.
MORRIS SCOTT: A former standout at Florida A&M in the late 1990s, he all but talked his way into a coaching job at Okaloosa-Walton (Fla.) Junior College. Scott spent two seasons with Banks at Southeastern Louisiana, coaching under Jim Yarbrough, before serving as an assistant last year at Grambling.
“That was a must for me, to get a guy who knows the area and knows the (Southwestern Athletic) Conference,” Banks said.
RYAN PRICE: Price is a former McNeese State guard, best known as the son of former McNeese and University of New Orleans coach Tic Price.
Ryan Price got into coaching after his college career, working at Division II schools Henderson State and Arkansas-Fort Smith.
With deep and obvious connections in Louisiana, Texas and Arkansas, Ryan Price can play a crucial role in recruiting, Banks said.
“He’s been very good at finding basketball players. Very good,” Banks said. “The thing is, Ryan has developed a great reputation as a go-getter. And as a coach’s son, he understands the business.”
RODNEY KIRSCHNER: A Kansas native and the son of former Christian Life Academy girls coach Rod Kirschner, he will be the team’s director of basketball operations.
Kirschner will handle logistical issues like travel, camp organization and, most importantly, players’ academic progress.
BRANDON WHITE: Banks has drafted White, a senior guard on last year’s team, to serve as a graduate assistant.
White earned his degree in education in December and was already working toward a master’s in the spring semester.
“These guys that I have hired (are) young and energetic. They’re not just here for a paycheck,” Banks said. “They’re all trying to make their mark and make this program good.”
The depth of Banks’ staff is the most notable difference from the previous two seasons at SU, when Spivery had only two assistants, no director of operations and no graduate assistant. When former assistant coach Sean LeBeauf left after the 2008-09 season, no one replaced him.
For his part, Banks said it was important that he get as much help as possible.
The turnaround project, he said, is too big for only a few pairs of hands.
“This program’s been losing both ways - in the classroom and on the floor,” he said. “How are you going to recruit good players, prepare for basketball games, still do class checks and meet APR, if you don’t at least have the appropriate coaches in place?”
Southern Interim Athletic Director Sandy Pugh said she was all in favor of giving Banks a full staff, noting, “We want him to have every opportunity to be successful, despite some of the budget woes we’ve had at Southern. And coach needed some people to work that APR issue.
“It’s really important we’re able to address that. ... And you can tell what they’re doing already. When you’re a kid and you see the head coach in the academic center, talking to tutors and checking up on what all his players are up to, I think that says a lot to them.”
Lifting players’ grades is indeed important, but Banks has to recruit, as well.
In addition to the one-year postseason ban, the NCAA’s Occasion Three penalty will allow Southern to give only 11 scholarships instead of 13.
Banks said he plans to sign “three, maybe four” players this offseason, adding that he’d like to finish the class by July 1.
But he also doesn’t want to rush it.
“I can’t panic and get a kid that can just play basketball,” he said. “We’re studying transcripts and habits, and we’re making sure that the kid fits academically first, then balancing that with how good he is.”