At OVC Media Day, I sat down with all 12 men’s basketball coaches coaches. Here is the entirety of my interview with SIUE head coach Lennox Forrester. I was not the sole person asking questions during this interview.
Q: Mark [Yelovich] was named to the preseason team. Is he the leader of this team?
LF: Mostly, yeah. He’s been a leader by example for the last 4-years that he had played. He’s one of our hardest workers, one of our best players. He has no ego about him, just plays as a team; it’s kind of his team in a way. And he has also helped build this foundation that we’ve laid to hopefully make it to postseason play.
Q: And you know, it’s also the first year for divisions. What do you think of the balance for the divisions?
LF: Well, I like it to be honest with you. I like it for the fact of travel reasons, I like it because it can develop a little bit more of a rivalry Just like last year.,I understand that Murray State is pretty good but we only played them once, which is a good thing for us. *chuckle* Not complaining. But I think when you’ve got to play a team twice helps develop that rivalry, and the proximity of all the teams, I think it helps build that and develop rivalries.
Q: Do you expect to have a rivalry with Eastern Illinois?
LF: We’re hoping so. I’m hoping to develop rivalries with every team. I think that brings a lot of excitement, that brings the best out of our players, our fans. I think it creates a really good environment. I’m hoping that every single team that we play we have a rivalry with.
(It should be noted that the next three questions comes from Luke Thompson, a writer for the Leaf Chronicle in Clarksville, TN)
Q: And of course I’m going to talk about Austin Peay. You haven’t been in the league as long, but it’s kind of rare to see them not up near the top. What did you think of that when you saw it?
LF: Well you know, coach [Dave] Loos has done a great job over the years. Every year, I do expect them to be pretty good. Last year, they were expected to win the OVC conference. They had some injuries; they had [Anthony] Campbell going down. Early, they played some very, very tough teams. And sometimes when you do that, when you lose some of those games, that can kill your team morale a little bit. But even in the conference, I think they started off slow, picked it up, and then kind of slowed down at the very end there. But, you know, their tradition that they have, just an unbelievable coach coach Loos is, and in my opinion, they’re always going to be good, because he’s a great coach.
Q: And this year, they bring back one starter, four freshman, a JUCO transfer, and Anthony Campbell coming off two ACL surgeries. How do you rank a team like that?
LF: Preseason ranking is all based on what you did last year. For us to be picked 4th on our side, it’s all based on what we did last year, and what Eastern [Illinois] and UT Martin, the two teams picked below us, did last year. To me, it has no bearing. If that was the case, hey, let’s just throw in the flag, and let’s go. It’s one of those things that, even though, last place team thinks they can win. And that’s the way, that’s the excitement of it. That’s what excites us, what excites our players, us as coaches, the team to work and work hard every day. Everyone has an equal opportunity. With Austin Peay, as young as they are, and inexperienced, hey, I don’t buy that for a second. I think that they’re a team that you’ve always got to respect because of the history of the tradition that they always bring to the table.
Q: What about a guy like Travis Betran who’s a JUCO, who’s got to play at Oklahoma State or Xavier but had academic issues and Anthony Campbell, no one knows how he’s going to be off his knee surgery. How do you factor that in?
LF: You have to factor in that they have a really good coach. To me, that’s how you factor it in. And again, you’ve got to look at what coach Loos and what Austin Peay have done in the past. I can’t remember, last year, I’m not even sure what their end record was, but that might be their first losing record in forever, since I’ve known them. With all that, you’re talking about someone that has known how to win, has proven how to win. So with those guys coming in, with Anthony Campbell with the experience, being older and smarter, and all the new guys coming in, most certainly they’re one of the, in my opinion, a pretty deadly team in our conference.
CB: Last year, you kind of surprised some people. I don’t think many people thought you would be a 6-win team, you got a really good win over Tennessee Tech. Was that surprising to you, that you were that strong, or was that what you expected from your team?
LF: You know what, in some ways, you’ve got to expect the best. And you’ve got to go in thinking that you can beat anyone. And that’s how you prepare. You prepare for success rather than prepare for failure. So what our guys did, I don’t think it was a surprise for us. It may have surprised some people, but not for us. Again, anytime you have a new season, anytime you’re playing an opponent, if you’re not thinking about winning, then you’re in the wrong business. So in some ways, it was kind of a surprise, but not for us as a team because our guys really played hard and worked hard and put themselves in a position where I thought we had some success last year.
CB: Coming off that kind of season, what are your expectation heading into this year?
LF: Well, you’ve got to want more. It’s one of those things, you have a little bit of success and you want to have more. Just like every team in the conference, you’ve got UT Martin who went 0-16 in the conference; I can guarantee you, right now, they’re working hard because they think that they have a chance to win the OVC conference. Every school does. That’s the beauty of a new season. Our expectation is obviously to get better than we were last year, and our expectation is to compete for championships. That what I think the tradition, as far as building our foundation, and things we’re looking forward to is competing for championships, and we can’t wait for 4 or 5 years down the road to start doing that. We’ve got to start it right now.
CB: There was an article this summer on “Bleacher Report” that called Kris Davis one of the best pure shooters in the country. I assume you, of course agree with that.
LF: Most certainly.
CB: Do you think he’s one of the best players in the OVC?
LF: I think he’s, um, I think he could be. I think he’s worked hard enough to where he could be one of the better players in the conference. How good, I’m not sure. He has a very, very high ceiling, I should say. And I think he’s a really good shooter. When you look at, percentage wise, he was probably one of the best in the country. But, obviously, they base those things on attempts, which he didn’t have more attempts, which I’m sure he’s probably blaming me for that. *Laugh* But, yes, he’s a very, very good shooter, and could become one of the better players in this conference.
CB: Your team shot a lot of three’s last year. I assume that’s part of the strategy, but it seems like you kind of lived and died by it last year.
LF: Well, it was based on where our strengths were. I thought we were a little bit thin inside, and I thought we had some guards that could shoot the basketball pretty well, with Kris Davis being one of them. And Corey Wickware, who has graduated, he shot a pretty high percentage too, so we really kind of played to our strength last year. I didn’t think we were really deep or very solid inside and that was really the reason for it.
CB: Has that changed this year? Are you hoping to be a more inside-oriented team?
LF: I think we’re going to be better inside, but I still think too that our guard play is also going to be pretty strong as far as making baskets and making plays, to where our style of play is going to be very similar. And hopefully we’re making more shots, to where it’s going to free up our guys inside a little bit more, to where I think our guys like Derian Shaffer has got better over the offseason. And then with the addition of Ray Lester to our team, and Michael Birts getting better and Zeke Schneider getting better, I think that’s really going to help those guys to where if our team continue to make outside shots, our style of play will still be the same. But at the same time, I think our inside guys are getting better, we’re better inside to where I think that we could be a little bit more balanced than we were last year.
CB: Who’s really standing out in the early practices so far?
LF: Mark Yelovich, and there’s a reason why he’s preseason first team all-conference. And that’s because he’s just one of our hardest workers, he’s one of our leaders, and I think he’s doing a good job of just bringing it every day like he has been in the last 4 years for us, so he’s one of those guys who is shining. And I think that our new guys too with Maurice Wiltz, Tim Johnson‘s really stepping up, and so with Jerome Jones, he’s working harder, he’s making a better percentage from three’s in practices, and shooting the basketball and ball control and he’s gotten better; his decision making has gotten better. So overall, I think our team, as a team they are better, but Mark Yelovich is one person that’s definitely been shining on a day-to-day basis for us.
Attached is the interview Forrester did with the OVC: