Roman Banks swears to the high heavens he never looked ahead to this game.
He’s a basketball coach, and as such, his main focus was always on the next practice, the next team, the next game — not a future visit, to Hammond, to the program he knows better than any other.
But now, at long last, that game is here.
Banks, the first-year men’s basketball coach at Southern, brings his team to Southeastern Louisiana University, where he served as an assistant coach for the past eight seasons.
When the teams tip off at 7 p.m. Monday in the University Center, it’ll be a different feeling for Banks. A strange feeling. Surreal, even.
Already this season, he has squared off against one of his former SLU bosses. That happened on Nov. 13, when the Jaguars faced Texas A&M and coach Billy Kennedy.
Sure, the Aggies cruised to an 83-58 win. But if anything, that game was more of a relief — a joyous moment, in fact. It was Kennedy’s first game back on the sideline since he announced he has Parkinson’s disease.
One other thing: That game was in College Station, Texas. That game wasn’t in the University Center, where Banks worked every day — first under Kennedy, then under current coach Jim Yarbrough.
“The whole time I was there,” Banks said, “I never even went into the visitor’s locker room. I don’t even know what it looks like.”
He’s about to find out.
“I haven’t anticipated this game any different. I haven’t even talked about it until now,” Banks said. “I think especially from that end, you’ll see a little bit more intensity. But our guys know I come from over there. And they know that in recent years, they’ve pretty much dominated.”
Southeastern has won each of the past six games in this series, including 2009, when the Lions thrashed Southern 94-48 in Hammond.
Yarbrough, Banks and the Lions visited Baton Rouge last season and held on for an eight-point win against Rob Spivery’s team.
With Banks as associate head coach, responsible in large part for recruiting some of Southeastern’s better local players, the team was a consistent winner, reaching the 2005 NCAA tournament and often contending for Southland Conference title.
Yarbrough once called him “a consummate professional” who “can handle all the facets of a program. He’s good with people and players, recruits, can teach, develops talent, schedules, community service, just great knowledge of the business.”
Banks knows all the secrets in Hammond, having moved out of town only this summer. He knows all the good spots to eat, and as of Saturday, hadn’t decided on SU’s pregame-meal destination.
“If I could find a restaurant that could guarantee us a win, I’d spend all my money over there,” he said, only half-jokingly. “But I’m not putting any more pressure on our guys. We just need to focus on what we need to do.”
Namely, they’d like to score more often and make fewer mistakes. In going 1-1 against MacMurray College and Jacksonville State, the Jaguars played sound defense, holding opponents to 29-percent shooting.
But they shot only 34 percent themselves, and they had 40 turnovers.
Now they’ll try to fix those problems.
And they’ll try to get a win against a program Banks knows very, very well.