A decade ago, when Southern University was looking for a new men’s basketball coach, Roman Banks hoped to prove he was the right man for the job.
An assistant to Tommy Green for five seasons, Banks served as interim head coach while SU looked for Green’s replacement.
But he didn’t get the full-time gig. That, instead, went to Ben Jobe for the second time.
Banks — whose father (Cleophus Banks), brother (Carlos Sample) and godfather (Bob Love) all played at SU — later conceded he was stung by the snub.
“We would tell him: In spite of politics, in spite of all the personal agendas, your time will come at Southern,” Cleophus Banks said. “Just wait and be patient.”
A decade later, Banks finally has the job.
But here’s the thing: The Southern job is a whole lot tougher than it was in 2001.
The Jaguars are short on firepower. In losing three seniors, they lost 50 percent of last year’s scoring and 36 percent of last year’s rebounds.
They’re short on confidence. Banks inherits a program that, in its past three years under Rob Spivery, produced a 17-74 record and the three worst seasons in program history.
Making matters worse, Banks can’t quick-fix his team simply by grabbing the best available players.
The NCAA slapped a one-year postseason ban on Southern because its multiyear APR score (852) is incredibly low. Without significant improvement, the team faces another penalty — one year of “restricted NCAA membership” — if the score doesn’t increase significantly.
In other words, Banks has to find recruits who can hit the books as well as they hit jumpers.
“I don’t want to sign just anybody and make a mistake,” he said. “We want to know where they are as students, and we really want to evaluate their abilities.”
Still, if there’s anyone fit for this monumental fixer-upper, people seem to think Banks is the guy.
Interim athletic director Sandy Pugh — who’s known Banks for more than two decades, dating to when the two played at Northwestern State — said she believes Banks is outworking her. And at the moment, Pugh, also the women’s basketball coach, is holding down two jobs.
Banks often leaves the F.G. Clark Activity Center after 8 p.m.; he wants to feel as if there isn’t one more thing he could’ve done that day to help the program get better.
He also has a long history of success in recruiting.
While at Southern from 1996-2002, he was largely responsible for signing two-time SWAC player of the year Adarrial Smylie and Dionte Harvey, the 1997-98 SWAC newcomer of the year.
And although SLU claimed only one Southland Conference championship during his stay there, in 2005, the Lions were more consistent than almost any other Division I program in Louisiana.
During Banks’ eight years at SLU, the Lions had seven winning seasons, the most of any Division I school in the state.
Their 140 wins ranked second, falling just short of LSU (144).
That was thanks in part to Banks, who worked under two head coaches — Billy Kennedy and Jim Yarbrough — and his recruiting efforts.
He found talented players mostly from within a four- or five-hour driving distance.
“I’ve known coach (Banks) for a long time,” Pugh said, “and I’m going to tell you right now: He’s the right guy for the job.”