The last year of the Rob Spivery era at Southern, the men’s basketball team had more players from New Jersey (four) than Louisiana (three).
Spivery’s successor took more big steps Wednesday toward enhancing the program’s local flavor.
On the first day of college basketball’s spring signing period, Southern coach Roman Banks welcomed aboard four players who could reach The Bluff on a half tank of gas.
Three of those players, in fact, could reach Southern on bicycles.
Glen Oaks standout Chris Thomas, 6-foot-5, joined the Scotlandville duo of Tre’Lun Banks and Jared Sam as Southern signees from Baton Rouge. East St. John post player Elex Carter (6-7) signed with the Jaguars as well.
“Some kids locally have been reluctant to go there because of the program’s past,” Thomas said. “You’re going to start to see (Southern) get more local kids now.”
Tre’Lun Banks, the son of the Southern coach, and Sam helped Scotlandville win back-to-back Class 5A state championships.
Southern was also in the mix for another Scotlandville player, but 5A title game MVP Brian Bridgewater signed with LSU.
The four Louisiana prospects bound for Southern join two out-of-state prospects Banks and his staff have signed: guard Rashad Andrews from Boys & Girls in Brooklyn, N.Y., and forward Damontre McFarland of Arlington Heights in Fort Worth, Texas.
Also, Southern signed McLennan Community College forward DeChriston McKinney in the fall.
Banks said the Jaguars, who lost four seniors from their Southwestern Athletic Conference tournament championship team, will have the full allotment of 13 scholarships this season after being limited because of APR-related penalties in years past.
“My philosophy is to try and get the very best players,” Banks said. “It just so happens that we were able to work hard and get in on a couple of kids that ordinarily (Southern) wouldn’t get.”
Banks said it’s important for the program to have success recruiting close to home.
“We have some pretty good basketball players right here in our own backyard,” Banks said, “so we want to make sure we’re able to grab one or two.”
Banks considers Carter one of the top big men in Louisiana’s senior class.
A dominant rebounder and shot-blocker, Carter earned first-team all-state recognition in 5A this year despite averaging 7.6 points. He made his mark in pulling down 12.5 rebounds per game and blocking 4.5 shots.
The Wildcats advanced to the state quarterfinals.
“Great defender,” East St. John coach Yussef Jasmin said. “Great shot-blocker and protector of the paint.”
Jasmin said Carter also had scholarship offers from Tulane, UNO and Oral Roberts, and that the 6-7 prospect chose Southern because “the vibe was right” when Carter visited on a recruiting trip.
“Obviously, the first-round game against Gonzaga this year helped,” Jasmin said.
Southern, making its first NCAA tournament appearance in seven years, nearly became the first No. 16 seed to beat a No. 1 seed before falling to Gonzaga by six points.
Thomas said he picked Southern because he too believes the program’s best days are ahead.
“I’m very excited,” Thomas said. “I’m right from the heart of Baton Rouge, so I want to be a hometown kid that can have chance to go there and make an impression on the program.”
Thomas earned All-Metro honors in 2012 after averaging 17 points and 11 rebounds and leading Glen Oaks to the 3A semifinals. He was named second-team all-state as a senior after averaging 18.1 points and 11 rebounds.
In the Louisiana High School Coaches Association All-Star Game last month, he had 19 points, five rebounds and two steals was named the game’s MVP.
Thomas, a wide receiver on the Glen Oaks football team, said he may consider playing football for Southern as well.