By Steve Robinson | October 4, 2018 - 10:52 pm
Posted in Category: ISU Redbirds, The Normalite

NORMAL – When Illinois State University ’s men’s basketball team began their season last year, they had no seniors and a lot of hope for a successful season. With no seniors, there were some who questioned just how far such a team could go as the season progressed.

As it turned out, the answer as to how far they got answered in St. Louis , when head coach Dan Muller’s troops finished, was second losing to league tournament champ Loyola-Chicago. But this year, with four seniors, the Redbirds’ hopes to go further are clearly evident.

With guards Keyshawn Evans and Ridgeview alum William Tinsley, and forward Phil Fayne as the seniors leading the charge, and two juniors – Josh Jefferson, Zach Copeland – following, waiting for their moment to step up, Muller knows he has players who can step up right now from the opening tip.

He also knows LeRoy High alum Matt Chastain, who has battled injuries over the last couple of years, is of a mind to contribute this season, as well, and hopes to stay healthy.

As for the group as a whole, Muller said, “We have high expectations. We have a really good group and the leadership’s there. It’s a fun team to coach.”

Muller said this team “reminds me of the team we had a couple years ago.” That would be the 2015-16 season team that made it to the quarterfinals at the MVC Tournament before losing to Indiana State , finishing the season with an 18-14 mark, including a 12-6 conference record.

He said that’s because sophomore forward Keith Fisher III, senior guard Jaycee Hillsman, and sophomore guard Dedric Boyd all came to ISU with playing experience in NCAA Division I. Fisher and Hillsman both came from San Jose State , and Boyd came from Eastern Kentucky . But while Muller is happy to have that trio on his roster, those three will be watching this season, unable to play at ISU now to fulfill NCAA’s transfer residence requirement for players.

That means this season “will come down to returning players,” 42-year-old Muller admitted. “We have guys in the program for 2, 3, 4 years who know what to expect.”

“We’re more balanced on both ends of the court,” Muller said, adding the team has worked more on its offensive scheme “than we ever have before.” That’s because ISU, which finished 18-15, which included a 10-8 conference mark last season, is working on a new offense. At that point, Muller refused to say much more about it, except to admit he thought he now had “the most talented offensive team since I’ve been here.”

“We’re more balanced on both ends of the court,” he added. “We have more shooters and more guys who can make plays.”

UIS Transfer Donnelly Not Bothered By Sitting Out A Year: ISU fans won’t see junior guard Lijah Donnelly on the court for another year because of NCAA’s rule about transfers needing to sit out one year after moving from one school to another, but that doesn’t seem to dampen his enthusiasm for being at ISU.

The Bloomington High product played at Division II University of Illinois Springfield before coming to ISU, and although he can’t play this season, he shows signs of being glad of his decision to come here. He said Muller reached out to him, stating he wanted Donnelly to come “help the team as much as I could.”

He said he is a player whose philosophy toward the game is “play hard every day, go hard every day.” What he was told by teammates was that being in Missouri Valley was that “it’s a battle every night and to come prepared for that.”

Chastain Learned To Get Through Adverse Times: Redshirt sophomore guard Matt Chastain said he learned a lot from his first year at ISU, including some new offensive and defensive techniques. After playing in big games at LeRoy High School and Loyola-Chicago, being part of a team that made it to MVC’s championship – against the school he first went to out of high school — didn’t rattle him, he said.

Chastain said he learned plenty about himself in his first year while at ISU, including “how to get through adversity, and learning not to be scared about taking the right shots.” He remained injury-free last year, playing in all 33 games for the Redbirds, but has recovered from a minor meniscus surgery in his left knee he needed after the season.

Internally, Chastain said, he and his teammates are talking about, once the regular season is completed, winning the MVC Championship, having come as close as they did last year.

Tinsley Ready To Continue Contributing: While Chastain’s redshirt period has ended and he is ready to make contributions this year, Ridgeview High alum William Tinsley appears anxious for the season to get started having experienced ISU’s run last year and the team having gotten to the MVC championship with hopes for a return. Last season, in his first season on the court after transferring to ISU from Lake Land College and sitting out per NCAA rules at that time, Tinsley scored 120 points, averaging almost 7 points per contest. He also had 8 steals, 18 blocks, and 14 assists. He was 2-for-7 from the free throw line and had 45 percent shooting from the floor. He also make 28-of-73 treys.

Among the lessons he said he latched on to last season: ”When to shoot the three and when not to shoot the three, and when to drive to the basket and when not to drive, defensively, especially. I learned a lot about defense because without defense, you’re not going to win a lot of games.”

Tinsley called last season with the Redbirds “a growing year for me, but I think it’s going to help me learn from mistakes and hopefully, be the best player I can be this year.”

There were other lessons he picked up, Tinsley said, including “how to get through adversity, and not be afraid about the shots you take.” Among his goals for the coming season are to be “a relentless defender.”

Tinsley had surgery to repair a meniscus tear after the season which laid him up for three weeks.

Circle Your Calendars: ISU begins Muller’s seventh season with an exhibition game against Lewis University on Tuesday, Oct. 30 starting with the 7p.m. tipoff. Their first game of the season is Tuesday, Nov. 6 against Florida Gulf Coast University . ISU will play in the Cayman Islands Classic Nov. 13-Nov. 21. ISU’s first MVC game will be Wednesday, Jan. 2 at Valparaiso . Their games against Bradley will be on Wednesday, Jan. 23 in Peoria and on Saturday, Feb. 16 at Redbird Arena.

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