By Steve Robinson | October 24, 2016 - 11:30 am
Posted in Category: ISU Redbirds, The Normalite

BasketballNORMAL – As Illinois State University’s men’s basketball team prepares for their 2016-17 season, the key word used is potential. Potential in hopes for a great season. Potential for more victories versus Missouri Valley Conference opponents. The potential to get to NCAA Tournament for the first time since Redbirds head coach Dan Muller led the team’s charge 18 years ago against Arizona.

Muller began his fifth season telling reporters his squad’s four seniors – guards Paris Lee and Tony Wills, and forwards Deontae Hawkins and MiKyle McIntosh – will be the ones leading the charge and showing their younger teammates the way throughout the season.

“I really like this group a lot,” Muller told reporters on Media Day on Oct. 19 in the interview room at Redbird Arena. “We’ll see where that takes us, but so far in practice, they’ve been really fun to coach.”

Muller said he thought it was a fair assessment that the Redbirds, who finished last season in third place in MVC with an 18-14 overall record which included a conference finishing mark of 12-6, “will go as far as our seniors will take us.”

“Obviously, it will take more than just those four for us to attain the goals we have for our team,” Muller said. “But with their experience and their talent level, a lot of that will fall on them.”

“The good thing about those four is that they can handle it,” Muller said. He added the younger players on the squad will follow the lead of the veteran players.

ISU RedbirdThe Redbirds had been working on Doug Collins Court for two weeks already when Media Day came, and as you read this, the team is entering into the next phase of their work with practices in the next two weeks which will involve learning some fundamentals followed by inserting specific plays and strategies for game situations. Muller said that last aspect can, sometimes, be tricky for new players.

Muller said his two transfer players – junior Milik Yarborough from St. Louis and sophomore Christian Romine from University of Texas El Paso – won’t find not being in game situations a problem probably until mid-December, January, and February – the time when the Redbirds will face the heart of the conference schedule.

In the meantime, helping those two newcomers “by developing great relationships with them, helping them to understand and trust the coaches, and how hard we’re pushing them and help them understand how they can improve as players” becomes the main focus.

High Energy Wanted: Lee said Muller puts an emphasis on making sure players have high energy when the team practices. “My approach to games this season is to come out and be comfortable,” Lee said. “I’m taking things one game at a time. You don’t want to overlook any opponents.”

“I feel like we’ve got a group of guys who can come out here to compete against anybody in the country,” Lee said.

Circle Your Calendars: ISU opens the season at home on Sunday, Nov. 6 with an exhibition against Quincy with a 3p.m. start time. The Redbirds’ nonconference schedule will start with a road game at Murray State on Friday, Nov. 11, and the Redbirds’ first home game will be on Wednesday, Nov. 16 against Indiana Fort Wayne, starting with a 6p.m. tipoff. The Redbirds will say aloha to three games at the Hawaiian Airlines Diamond Head Classic in Honolulu where they will face Hawaii in their first game there Friday, Dec. 23. Upon returning home, Evansville will be the first MVC opponent to visit Redbird Arena this season on Thursday, Dec. 29, starting at 7p.m. The two-game rivalry with I-74 nemesis Bradley will play out starting with visiting Peoria’s Carver Arena on Wednesday, Jan. 18, starting at 8p.m. The Braves will visit Redbird Arena on Saturday, Feb. 11 starting at 9p.m.

By Steve Robinson | August 12, 2016 - 10:22 pm
Posted in Category: ISU Redbirds, The Normalite

FootballNORMAL – Illinois State University’s Redbirds football squad was ranked 10th in a top 10 poll conducted for the STATS FCS Preseason Top 25 poll. To anybody who saw their victory march in the middle of the season over higher ranked Missouri Valley Football Conference foes like Youngstown State and Northern Iowa, all part of a 7-game winning streak during the regular season, fans might think that was rather low.

But the power conferences ruled the preseason Top 25 with the Colonial Athletic Association collecting six selections, and the Big Sky Conference and Missouri Valley Football Conference gaining five apiece. Reigning FCS Champion North Dakota State enters the 2016 season as the FCS favorite. Having won an NCAA-record five straight national titles, the Bison earned 152 of the 158 first-place votes from a national panel of sports information and media relations directors, broadcasters, writers.

As one might expect at this point in the year, with the 2016 season about to kick off with the Redbirds’ first home game at Hancock Stadium set for Saturday, Sept. 3 at 6p.m., the fans and the team are more interested in proving the pollsters wrong and moving up in those polls as quickly as possible.

Senior Linebacker Brent Spack Looks To Lead: Heading into his final season, senior linebacker Brent Spack said he is looking to be among those who will lead the younger Redbirds toward their future this season. “We have another good leader and senior, Alejandro Rivera next to me at linebacker, and he and I, we just want to lead our team and show everyone that we can win championships and will win championships.” The younger Spack said he will be stepping into the shoes of linebacker Pat Meehan, who was a senior last year. Meehan was the role model the younger Spack used for prepping for his senior season in terms of assuming leadership.

“In addition to winning the conference, and championship, is to lead the conference in defense, if not the nation,” Spack, a Normal Community High grad, said. “They’re big goals, but being a defensive player, I would really like to see that happen from our guys.” The younger Spack said he is considering graduate school and thinking about getting into coaching.

ISU Redbird HelmetBreen Ready For Sophomore Season: In the classroom, Zach Breen is a junior and ready to continue his studies. On the Hancock Field turf, since he redshirted, he is a sophomore, which means he was getting acclimated to college football life after having been kicker for Normal Community West High School . “I got in a couple games last season, so I got a little experience under my belt,” the 5 foot-10, 175 pounder said. “It’s been a lot of fun learning from the older guys.” He said coaching staff watching him on film and then providing a critique of his efforts has really helped him out since having been in actual game situations. His personal goal for this season includes trying to get on the field more than the two times he was able last year.

Hoselton Gets Sneak Peek At Opponents’ Playbooks: Lexington resident and Bloomington Central Catholic High alum George Hoselton found himself in a unique position on the squad last year. A junior this year, Hoselton found himself third string at his offensive line position, but that presented what some might consider an unusual opportunity. During Redbirds practices, Hoselton and some other third string players found themselves in the role of the opposition during practices, running opponents’ plays.

“Being an offensive lineman, our job is to give our defense a good look each week at the opponent we’re playing every upcoming week,” Hoselton said of the assignment. “It’s nice to know that in this role, I have a part in helping my team get better.” Hoselton has aspirations of advancing from third string, and the only way he can do that he said is continue working on his skills.

“No Issues” For Freshman Hirsch Learning Front Line Assignments: Freshman offensive lineman Garrett Hirsch credits Redbirds Offensive Line Coach Dan Clark with helping him and his new teammates to learn to overcome mental lapses in practice which could be costly during game situations. “The whole playbook is really, so much more advanced than it is in high school,” explained the 6 foot-2, 290 pound center from Towanda. “There are so many mental lapses that can occur because we are still learning plays. But Coach Clark is so good at his job that the others assigned to him and I have no real issues.”

Bumpus Knows Players Need To Show They’re Ready For Action: Cole Bumpus will academically be a junior when the fall term starts and besides his football duties, he is one of the few players who will also be a double major in Finance and Business Administration. A Bloomington resident, he played defensive back for Normal Community West High. The business world may be highly competitive, but that shouldn’t startle Bumpus who said he wants to compete on the field to get a shot at playing safety or cornerback for the Redbirds. Going into training camp, he’s third string at the positions. “You have to show the coaches you’re ready to slip into those positions” when called, Bumpus, now a junior, said.

Missouri Valley ConferenceU-High Alum Galindo Finds “There’s A Lot To Learn”: Freshman defensive end Austin Galindo admits “there is a lot to learn about the system he is about to play in at ISU. In his high school days, he was a defensive end and tight end at U-High. “I’m just going to try to learn from the older guys and try to get better at the position,” he said. “Obviously, there’s a lot to learn as a true freshman.” He said even though there were fans at U-High games all four years he played at Hancock Stadium, he said playing as a Redbird, with the stadium packed will be “even more special” when he gets his chance to play for ISU.

Central Catholic Alum Hayes Waiting His Turn: Normal resident and another BCC alum is of the understanding he won’t go from the sidelines to the turf in what is his freshman year this season. “I understand everyone’s got to wait their turn, and that I’ll be redshirting this year,” the 6 foot-4, 255 pound defensive lineman said. “I expected all of this to be different from what high school was.” Just because he won’t be in games doesn’t mean Hayes isn’t thinking ahead. He said his goals for this season include time in the weight room to help him get stronger and faster.

FootballNORMAL – When he played football for Washington Community High School, Christian Uphoff proved to be a young man of many skills: He could find himself playing any one of a number of positions and proving he could do them well: Cornerback, Safety, Wide Receiver, and Running Back were the positions his high school coach, Darrell Crouch would insert him in for battle depending upon the situation and opponent.

But now, as a freshman at Illinois State University, Uphoff is keenly aware his playing days will have to wait a little while until he sees action. Until head coach Brock Spack and his assistants find a role for Uphoff, he will continue to play the role of observer and continue doing what he has since coming here earlier this month: “Still getting the hang of things.”

ISU Redbird Helmet“I will continue doing that because, right now, I don’t want to go out onto the field and, you know, and be responsible for an opponent’s touchdown or something. I want to take my time and learn my position.”

His college coach, Illinois State University’s Brock Spack, entering his eighth season in 2016, had high praise for Uphoff at this early stage of his career. “He’s a very, very good athlete. His best football is ahead of him.”

“I like his length,” Spack said of the 190-pounder.”He’s a very, very good athlete. He’s played a lot of skilled positions at Washington. Right now, he’s not a very polished football player, but I think his best football is way ahead of him.”

‘Bird Ranked In Top 10: ISU was ranked in a top 10 poll having found themselves Redbirds were ranked No. 10 in the STATS FCS Preseason Top 25. The power conferences ruled the preseason Top 25 with the Colonial Athletic Association collecting six selections, and the Big Sky Conference and Missouri Valley Football Conference gaining five apiece. Reigning FCS Champion North Dakota State enters the 2016 season as the FCS favorite. Having won an NCAA-record five straight national titles, the Bison earned 152 of the 158 first-place votes from a national panel of sports information and media relations directors, broadcasters, writers

Missouri Valley ConferenceJake Colby Gets QB Nod: Sophomore Jake Colby gets the nod from Spack as the Redbirds starting quarterback. The Naperville Central grad will find himself being defended by a front line that has youth on its side being around the same age as the quarterback. He will be passing to veteran receivers such as junior tight end Michael Clements and senior wide receiver Anthony Warrum.

Squib Kicks: ISU opens the season at home against non-conference visitor Valparaiso on Saturday, Sept. 3 at 6p.m. …..The Redbirds will take on Northwestern in Evanston in a non-conference contest on Saturday, Sept. 10 at 2:30p.m. ….ISU will visit North Dakota State on Saturday, Oct. 1 for a 2:30p.m. showdown……Youngstown State is the opponent when ISU celebrates Homecoming on Saturday, Oct. 8 with a 2p.m. game.

BasketballNORMAL – As his fourth season as Illinois State University’s head basketball coach begins, Dan Muller knows some adjustments will be necessary with graduations of players like Reggie Lynch. He also knows adjusting means veteran players like junior guard Paris Lee and senior guard DeVaughn Akoon-Purcell will need to step up their leadership roles as the 2015-16 season begins.

ISU got a head start on their bonding process as a team when they traveled to Spain for three games, winning two of them, in August. “Paris and DeVaughn have been terrific,” the fourth season coach said. He added that junior forward Nick Banyard “has shown leadership in a lot of ways. He’s won championships at New Mexico. He knows what it takes.”

“We expect everybody to be held accountable and we expect everybody to be a leader at times,” Muller explained of what he demands of his players this coming season. “DeVaughn and Paris have been our most consistent leaders, and that’s a good thing because they know what I want, and they want the best for the team.”

The biggest strength the team has which Muller and his players will turn into a theme for the season will concern its speed. That could be essential, not just for ISU, but for all teams as NCAA has shaved five seconds off the shot clock beginning this season, giving players 30 seconds to get down court and make baskets.

ISU Redbird“I think our speed and quickness at both ends of the court, and our ability to finish around the rim and make plays for each other is going to be a strength of ours,” Muller said. “I think our quickness with the dribble will be a strength of ours. I think our depth will be a strength.” Disadvantages the Redbirds face this coming season are seeing a lot of players step in to what could be, occasionally, unfamiliar roles.

The Redbirds, who finished 22-13 last season, including finishing second in the Missouri Valley Conference Tournament in St. Louis in March after disposing of Evansville and 8th ranked Wichita State before dropping the league championship to 11th ranked Northern Iowa, were invited to the National Invitational Tournament. In the NIT, the Redbirds hosted and defeated visiting University of Green Bay in the opening round and lost their second round game on the road, finishing their season at Old Dominion.

“It’ll be interesting to see if, when the moment’s on and the lights are on, who’s not afraid of the moment,” Muller said.

Freshman center Daouda “David” Ndiaye said he enjoyed the team’s trip to Spain in August, which served as a warm-up exercise and as a team bonding experience. Ndiaye said the rules in Spain are a little different in terms of what is considered a traveling violation on the court there, but, he said, Muller and the coaching staff cautioned the team about that matter in advance.

Missouri Valley ConferenceAkoon-Purcell said his mindset from last season to this season has changed “to being more of an attack mode” as he prepares for the new season. Akoon-Purcell, who averaged 12.8 points per game and had a 77 percent free throw average last season. He added, “I relaxed a lot last year. But this season, knowing I have to lead the younger guys has changed my outlook.” He said watching the Redbirds lose the Missouri Valley Championship game to Northern Iowa altered his perspective.

Senior guard Justin McCloud is transferring into ISU from North Dakota’s Bismarck State College and said he is ready for the next step in his collegiate basketball career. He played football in high school in his hometown of Bottineau, N. D., but when he was ready to start college, he devoted his time to basketball.

Schedule Highlights:
ISU will play Southern Indiana University in an exhibition game at Redbird Arena on Sunday, Nov. 8. The regular season opens with ISU traveling to San Diego State on Friday, Nov. 13. The Redbirds will play in the Cancun Challenge beginning Thursday, Nov. 19 against South Dakota State. The Valley Season opens on Monday, Dec. 30 as ISU hosts Missouri State at 7p.m. ISU visits Bradley on Wednesday, Jan. 20, with the Braves visiting Redbird Arena on Valentine’s Day for a 3p.m. game.

BasketballNORMAL – As a group, Illinois State University’s Women’s basketball team opted to turn a corner from their 2-28 record last season as soon as it ended. Head Coach Barb Smith said her players have treated that season as a bad memory not worth revisiting, getting into the weight room to begin the new season almost as soon as last season’s final horn sounded for the Redbirds.

Women’s Basketball Media Day at ISU’s Redbird Arena on Oct. 20 had a positive energy which came across as something almost contagious, which Smith, her players, and assistants were anxious to spread throughout the community.

“I really think the upperclassmen have done a great job in helping the freshmen and newcomers come in here and find their way and bring the team together,” Smith said. “I feel like we’ve had more players in the gym in the offseason this year – during the spring, summer, and fall – than any other year.

“These kids really want to get better and it’s exciting,” Smith said. “We’re having fun with them. Everybody is working hard.”

Getting into the gym as early as the players did “was a sign our players wanted to be change agents,” Smith said. “They wanted to get better and then, set the tone for the players coming in. Everything we’ve done from this point on is focused on this year, and I’m having a lot of fun with this team.”

Of her players as a whole, Smith said, “They’re hard-working, they’re gritty, and together. Each of the upperclassmen has done an awesome job.”

ISU RedbirdSmith singled out junior guard Taylor Stewart for going to the effort of helping her younger teammates get a feel for where their new classrooms were located. Smith also credited senior forward Colleene Smith with spending “virtually every day” since spring in the gym prepping for the coming season. Smith touted senior forward Octavia Crump for being “a tremendous leader for us and providing a positive impact on the floor with our players” during the three weeks the team has been in practices.

“Our players look up to Crump,” Smith said. “When she talks, people listen, and she’s done a great job of being a stable upperclassman.”

Smith said a knee injury kept junior center Kalyn Gebhardt from some action last season, but added, “She’s worked very hard to get healthy. She spent a lot of time out, but she’s looked stronger than she has since she’s been here.”

Crump said the team will work hard to overcome a height disadvantage the Redbirds will experience this season. Their two tallest players are a pair of six-foot shooters – freshman forward Millie Stevens and Colleene Smith.

Normal West Alum Lexie Taylor Joins Redbirds: A year ago, as she was beginning her junior year, Normal Community West High School alum Lexie Taylor transferred to ISU from Division II Urbana University in Ohio last fall but had to sit out her junior season with the Redbirds per NCAA transfer rules. Taylor said she is now ready to contribute this season. In fact, when she showed up at Coach Smith’s office a year ago, Taylor admits she had to reintroduce herself to her new coach – something they both get a chuckle out of now when they think of it.

“We have higher standards and expectations for the team this year,” Taylor said. As for personal goals for herself, Taylor said she is looking forward to “leading the team to a successful year.”

“She works so hard, and she worked hard last year,” Smith said of Taylor. “She’s very mature and she worked so hard this summer because she wants to play this year in her last year.”

Missouri Valley ConferenceISU Alum Cathy Boswell Returns As Assistant At Alma Mater: Cathy Boswell came home this summer and said being back at ISU feels good. She returned to ISU in August with 31 years of competitive basketball experience including 24 years playing and coaching overseas. Most recently, she was head coach of the Tenerife Club in Spain for two seasons. She led ISU to 90 victories in her collegiate playing career, and has been honored with a banner hanging above “Doug Collins Court” in Redbird Arena.

“Something told me – a little voice told me – it was time to come back home,” said Boswell, a 1983 graduate. “This coaching position opened up and it was a dream come true. I just couldn’t believe the perfect timing of the opening.”

As for last season for the Redbirds, Boswell said she kept an eye on news reports of how the team fared then. “Everyone took their bumps and bruises and learned from them, including myself, even though I wasn’t here last year,” Boswell said. “Everyone on this team is willing to learn from last year and move on. We are willing to take the steps toward progress and becoming a better team.”

Circle Your Calendars: An exhibition contest against St. Charles, MO.-Linderwood University opens the year for the Redbirds at home on Wednesday, Nov. 4 at 7p.m. The season opens officially for Smith’s crew at Bowling Green University on Friday, Nov. 13 at 6p.m. The Redbirds’ first non-conference home game will be against Murray State on Wednesday, Nov. 18 at 7p.m. The Missouri Valley Conference season will start for the Redbirds on Friday, Jan. 1 when they host Missouri State at 1p.m. They will face MVC regional foe Bradley University here on Friday, Jan. 22 at 7p.m., and then in Peoria on Sunday, Feb. 21 at 2p.m.