For Jacksonville State coach James Green, it’s a tough three-game road stretch through the Land of Lincoln that will test his team’s mettle.
For senior guard Brian Williams, it’s the start continuation of last season’s success cut short by academic sanctions.
The Gamecocks open their sixth season under Green tonight at Bradley. They go to Big Ten Illinois on Sunday, then wrap up the trip at Chicago State on Tuesday.
“You talk about knowing something about yourself, we’re really going to know something about ourselves when we come off that trip,” Green said. “Three games in a short span with one day in between against tough opponents. That will be very testing for us.
“If we can come away with a couple wins, that will satisfy me. We’re playing on three peoples’ home courts. If you go two out of three on the road you’ll be doing really good. I just want to see how our team grows in this first week and how we tighten up.”
The Gamecocks won their two exhibitions in games that were closer than they needed to be. They opened a big lead on Division II West Georgia, but didn’t finish strong and won by 13. They beat NAIA Martin Methodist by only two, holding on despite weak free throw shooting down the stretch.
Both wins featured an improved post presence that bodes well for the Gamecocks’ future, but now they have to take their show on the road. Returnees Nick Cook (foot) and Rico Sanders (knee) missed the second exhibition because of injuries, but are expected to be available for the trip.
“In the past we’ve been confident enough that when we’ve played on the road we’ve been competitive,” Green said. “That’s an air that we’ve carried and we need that.
“But certainly this particular group doesn’t need to be overconfident at this point. There’s still too many miles to go before we sleep.”
Bradley is picked fifth in the preseason Missouri Valley Conference poll. The Braves are led by Walt Lemon, the league’s leading scorer among active players.
Illinois is picked eighth in the Big Ten.
Chicago State is a consensus sixth preseason pick in the WAC. Guard-forward Quinton Pippen is the nephew of former NBA great Scottie Pippen.
The Gamecocks are coming off a 17-11 season (8-8 in the OVC), their best in Green’s tenure. The year was highlighted by wins over Austin Peay and Murray State, but didn’t extend into the tournament because of a postseason ban. This year they can play in any postseason tournaments that might come their way.
“Last year we showed people we shouldn’t have been banned, because it wasn’t our fault, but this year we’re going to try to build on that,” said Williams, a preseason all-conference pick. “We had 17 wins (last year), we’re going to try to get over 20 and make the NCAA Tournament.”
Al Muskewitz covers Jacksonville State sports for The Star. He can be reached at 256-235-3577.