HAMMOND — There are no early nonconference layups for either of Southeastern Louisiana’s basketball teams.
The men are headed to Big 12 country to open the season Friday at Oklahoma State, while the women Friday trek to Minnesota of the Big Ten.
“I’ve seen where (media outlets) have said we have the toughest nonconference schedule in the country,” SLU first-year men’s coach Jay Ladner said. “We have 12 of our first 14 games on the road. That’s tough for any team, but especially for a team short on experience.”
First-year women’s coach Yolanda Moore faces a similar road map with trips to Southeastern Conference members Auburn, Mississippi State, LSU and Ole Miss during December.
“I’m a competitor; I’m OK with it,” said Moore, who played at Ole Miss. “People outside of basketball may look at it as a daunting task, but we see it as preparation. It’s getting them mentally ready to compete and to see early what we’re made of.”
This is Ladner’s first Division I coaching job, taking over in April for Jim Yarbrough after three straight losing seasons. After a successful high school coaching career in Mississippi, Ladner moved quickly up the ladder following a 45-13 two-year run at Jones (Mississippi) Community College that included the 2013-14 NJCAA national championship.
Ladner promised a more up-tempo style and SLU, which twice scored more than 90 points during last year’s 12-18 season, defeated Loyola 97-81 in an exhibition, with five players reaching double figures.
Murray State transfer Zay Jackson, a junior guard who prepped at St. Thomas Aquinas, led the Lions with 28 points, and Joshua Filmore added 20.
“We want to play great defense and be difficult to score against and be highly efficient offensively,” Ladner said. “It’s a good start, but I hope we’ll be above and beyond that as well.”
Filmore, a 6-foot sophomore, is only one of two returning starters for SLU, joining 6-9 senior Devonte Upson. The Lions will be without leading returning scorer JaMichael Hawkins, a senior who had surgery to repair torn tendons in his big toe and will redshirt.
Forward Onochie Ochie, one of two available seniors, averaged 8.4 points, and 6-3 junior guard Andrew Guillory is back after a redshirt season.
SLU will play Oklahoma two nights after its season opener and also faces nonconference dates at Tulane (Nov. 28), Gonzaga (Dec. 2), Southeast Missouri (Dec. 6), UTEP (Dec. 16) and Central Florida (Dec. 22). The Lions open conference play Jan. 5 at Stephen F. Austin.
Moore, who led LSU-Eunice to a 26-3 record in her only season, inherits a little more stable situation with SLU’s women returning four starters and nine letter winners from an 8-22 team.
Senior guard Symone Miller of East Ascension led the Lady Lions by averaging 13.5 points a year ago and needs 205 to reach 1,000 in her career. Senior point guard Elizabeth Styles provided a lift in scoring (12.1) and assists (5.4), with the latter ranking her second in the Southland.
“I’ve seen a lot of growth in the players,” said Moore, whose team begins SLC action Jan. 8 at Sam Houston State. “They’ve bought into playing team basketball — playing winning basketball.”
SLU will be bolstered by the return of senior guard Jameika Hoskins, who missed last season with an injury. Moore pointed to the development of All-SLC third-team junior forward Nanna Poole, who averaged 12 points and a SLC-best 10.7 rebounds, as a player to watch — along with freshman guard Taylin Underwood, who scored 3,000 points during an all-state career at Doyle.
“I’m very excited about our team,” said Moore, who is trying to lead SLU to its first SLC tournament appearance in three years. “People are going to be very pleased. They work hard. They have a focused attitude.”