Ford’s seventh season at SLU needs to become banner year for Billikens basketball

There’s plenty of room up in the Chaifetz Arena rafters.

How about above on the north side, which is suspended near section 205?

There you can see the first two Billikens basketball banners from the Travis Ford era. A one-and-done trip to the NCAA Tournament in 2019. One Atlantic 10 tournament championship that made it possible.

That’s it. That’s all.

Time for a newer one. A bigger one. Season seven should be a banner year for the Ford team, and it should be.

Ford won’t take it from the rooftops of Midtown, but it knows what we know. This must be his best team. The evidence was also evident in Monday night’s exhibition against UMSL coach Bob Sundvold’s perennial Tritons, which SLU won 81-58.

The Billikens are loaded with talent, experience and driven by a desire to be better than better.

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Great teams have great guards. They have made seasonal debuts. They can get to the basket and shoot well from outside. They return strongly and defend. They’re fueled not by preseason accolades — SLU was picked second in the Atlantic 10, behind Dayton — but by a determination to live up to the kind of words this group wears on the back of its new warmup shirts: “The Journey e. prize.”

We’ll see where this journey leads, make no mistake. The Ford team has parts to go around. Need more proof? How about this piece from the sports bible, Chris Dortch’s Blue Ribbon College Basketball Yearbook.

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“It’s hard to look at this team and not see big things,” the release said. “Saint Louis is deep, experienced and talented. It’s a great relationship.”

Point guard Yuri Collins was rightly named to the Bob Cousy Award watch list Monday, along with other nominees for the nation’s best point guard honor. If he lowers some of his rounds, he can win it. Credit goes to the supporters of SLU athletics for playing the name, image and equity game to keep Collins here. Tennessee has come hard for him this past season. He stayed. The investment will pay off.

Javonte Perkins played Monday because there’s no reason to rush this leg injury he’s dealing with, but he’s coming back from last year’s season-ending knee injury, which turned Ford’s sixth-place team on the upset side of the NCAA tournament. . Perkins doesn’t have to lead the team every night. His team got better as he got better. He just has to contribute, and he will.

Like seasoned guard Fred Thatch, big man Francis Okoro got better as he progressed last season. Okoro quietly produced double-doubles in five of the Billikens’ last eight games last season, despite the double-teams he wanted.

Gibson Jimerson, who ranked third in the A-10 last season, should have a tough time guarding more threats around him. He made 42% from 3-point range last season. It will work, and it can be improved now.

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Here’s another name that should help that long-range game: Sinqere Parker. The junior college transfer shot is synonymous with his first name — right. On Monday night, he hit his first 3-pointer of the game while wearing an SLU uniform to spark a streak of 11 points scored in four minutes. Parker finished with 15 points for the Bills, sharing the team lead with Jimerson.

If Perkins goes back to being Perkins, and Parker can score like this, look out.

Incoming transfer Javon Pickett quietly scored a touchdown for Missouri in the SEC playoffs last season. Like Thatch and Collins, he is a ruthless defender. Don’t sleep on his potential in this group. If he plays for SLU last season and repeats the scoring he scored in the SEC, he would tie Collins’ for second-highest on the team behind Jimerson’s 16.3.

Ford started Collins, Pickett, Thatch, Jimerson and Okoro on Monday. That lineup is subject to change based on the health and names of Perkins’ (Parker!) columns moving forward. Terrence Hargrove Jr. that flies high, must break the boards with a fury. Energetic Temple transfer Jake Forrester adds depth to the frontcourt. Two exciting freshmen – Kellen Thames and Larry Hughes Jr. – can help, but in the best way. Their roles are not waiting for them. They need to take their role from someone else. An internal rivalry should be simmering within this group all season. Iron sharpens iron.

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We have to mention two conditions.

Top startups need to survive, and bad luck is essential.

SLU has paid its fair share of bad luck in recent seasons. Perkins’ knee injury last season. COVID interrupted SLU twice in the previous two seasons, disrupted the offensive flow after an outbreak in 2020-21, and canceled the A-10 and NCAA tournaments in 2019-20, after the Billikens lost six of won its last seven games. . Consolidating a 2019 NCAA Tournament appearance should no longer be a goal. It should be the beginning of the goal. If not, Ford will make the cut with its best team yet.

Yes, Dayton is good and talented too. But the Billikens aren’t taking the season off the young Flyers. Better take advantage now, because the Flyers are going to be big soon.

Through the six seasons of Ford’s tenure, the Billikens have become a team that seems to be one season away from their big win.

If it’s going to happen, now is the time.


Inside the daily competition of SLU basketball players to earn the practice championship belt


Travis Ford expresses his frustration at SLU's basketball exhibition performance

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