Southern’s newest men’s basketball coach has had time to prepare for this.
Morris Scott, the Jaguars’ first-year head coach entering his seventh season on Southern's staff, said he and outgoing coach Roman Banks, the school's current athletic director, somewhat strategized for Scott’s assumption of the program from Banks a while back.
“He’s kind of been training me for this moment,” Scott said at Southern’s Media Day in early October. “We had talks about this about a year or two before this even happened about the steps I needed to take to even become a head coach.
“(Banks) said, ‘Man, look, it’s going to be your chance to go out there and become a head coach and prove to everyone that you’re ready.'"
Behind a new coach, a new era at Southern is soon to begin, and the first few games of Scott’s head coaching career won't be a breeze, either.
The Jaguars begin their 2017-18 campaign with a 7 p.m. tipoff Friday against the Big Ten's Illinois at the Fighting Illini's State Farm Center. Within a span of 12 days, Southern will travel to Marshall, Missouri State, North Carolina Central and Duke's Cameron Indoor Stadium before its first home game on Nov. 22.
“Our nonconference schedule is tough this year," senior center Jared Sam said. "We actually are looking forward to it. We know it won’t be easy. That’s why we’re out here and work every day. But what we’re really looking forward to is getting an upset or two while we’re out there, too.”
As if a new regime under Scott isn't enough change for an offseason, the Jaguars enter this season with a number of new faces. With some transfers from junior colleges and others freshmen or redshirts, Southern has seven first-year players and will return nine from last season.
Even without a new coach, an extensive learning curve for the newbies appears to be inevitable.
“Yeah, there’s a learning curve because we have a lot of new guys on the roster as well," Scott said. "A lot of guys that don’t really have a role that’s been established. The only real guy is Jared Sam, our leading scorer returning averaging about 14 points and about seven rebounds a night from last season … He’ll be a lot (more) comfortable with what we’re doing.”
Sam, a 6-foot-10, four-year senior who is expected to start at center, was named a member of the preseason All-Southwestern Conference first team by the league's head coaches and sports information directors.
Last season, Sam finished 12th in scoring with 13.6 points per game, fourth in rebounding at 7.4 per game and second in field-goal percentage at .589.
“That’s a good selection," Sam said jokingly, "I agree with that."
Senior guard Chris Thomas, a Baton Rouge native, was named to the second team after averaging 8.4 points per game, 4.7 rebounds and 23.2 minutes last season.
During October's Media Day, Scott said the Jaguars had yet to set a starting lineup as multiple positions are still up for grabs.
Brendon Ganaway, a 5-foot-10 redshirt sophomore from Houston, owned a majority of the point guard minutes during the preseason, Scott said, but junior transfers Torrey Mayo and Eddie Reese remain in the chase for the starting role.
Beside Sam, with additional frontcourt depth unlike last season, forwards Emanual Shepard and Patrick Smith are expected to have featured roles at power forward, Sam said, which fills a few holes within Southern's starting five.
Southern was picked to finish second in the conference's preseason poll, a nod which Scott said isn't an added pressure for a first-year coach.
Concocting a contending lineup and developing a winning culture under his new direction is enough pressure for Scott.
“I think being a head coach is pressure it itself," the coach said. "Your job is to go out and win basketball games … The only thing it does is put a bull's-eye on our back. It’s good for me a little bit. I heard a colleague say (last month) it’ll just make me stay up a little later and watch a little more film."