If I were to place a soundtrack to every team in the Ohio Valley Conference, a fitting homage for the Southeast Missouri State Redhawks would be "A Change Is Gonna Come" by the great Sam Cooke.
To say that change was necessary would be putting it lightly. The Redhawks finished 2015-16 dead last in the OVC with a 2-14 conference record (5-24 overall). They lost their first 10 games of the season, then dropped their final eight to finish their dismal campaign.
The Redhawks return only four players (all seniors) from last year’s team, which given their record, may be a good thing. Head coach Rick Ray returns for his second season and he kept his entire staff of assistants in place. Ray came to Southeast Missouri on the heels of a three-year stint as the head coach of Mississippi State and prior to his time in Starkville, Ray worked for 15 years as an assistant at Clemson, Purdue, Indiana State and Northern Illinois -- an impressive resume, giving fans hope that he can rebuild at Southeast Missouri State.
The Redhawks were holding their breath that 6-foot-9 forward Tony Anderson would withdraw his name from the NBA draft and return to the Redhawks this season, but that didn't happen. Anderson averaged just five points with 2.1 rebounds per game coming off the bench for the Redhawks and has two chances of being drafted (slim and none). He could've benefited from a bit more seasoning and the Redhawks would've benefited from the depth of having another big body available.
That's because the Redhawks were near the bottom of almost every statistical category in the OVC last year, including scoring offense (11th), scoring margin (12th), free throw percentage (12th), three point percentage (12th) among others. Coach Ray has to have his team play more of a disciplined style of basketball if they are going to create change within the program by starting with the basics of basketball and doing the simple things like hitting free throws.
Luckily, Southeast Missouri doesn’t have to look too far for the precedent for change. Conference rival Tennessee State was in a similar situation in 2014-15 (the Tigers went 5-26) but after making some changes of their own, the Tigers tied a school record with a 20-win season in 2015-16. The 15 win turnaround for Tennessee State was more than any other program in Division One.
One of the key pieces of this turnaround should come on the recruiting trail.
Ray and his staff were busy this off-season, bringing in eight new players to Southeast Missouri's roster including six new guards and two forwards. Most of the new players have come from the JUCO ranks and will be given every opportunity to make an instant change of their own in Cape Girardeau.
The team also returns three of the top four scorers from last year including 6-foot-6 senior guard Antonius Cleveland who was 10th in the OVC in scoring with a 15.2 points per game average. The Redhawks second leading scorer 6-foot-7 forward Joel Angus III also returns for his senior season and is the only returning player to start every game for the Redhawks last year.
College sports are a copycat world these days and hopefully Rick Ray and his staff were paying close attention to the formula for success laid out before them by their conference rivals.
Southeast Missouri has nowhere to go but up. It’s been a long time coming, but I know a change is gonna come.
Yes it will.