The Stephen F. Austin basketball program has been on an unprecedented run in the Southland Conference over the past three seasons. In that time, it has complied an 89-13 record, lost just one conference game and has made three consecutive NCAA tournament appearances, including this year when the Lumberjacks upset West Virginia and were a tip-in away from knocking off Notre Dame.
However, after all of the Lumberjacks' recent success, their Southland conference opponents may see a slight opportunity to gain some ground next season and kick them when they’re down. The architect of Stephen F. Austin's success, head coach Brad Underwood, has left for greener pastures (and a bigger pay check) to become Oklahoma State’s next head coach. Aside from the coaching change, the Lumberjacks also lost five seniors to graduation (three of whom were the teams top three scorers), including two-time Southland Conference Player of The Year Thomas Walkup. Underwood has set the bar so high for the SFA program that he has left some big shoes to fill in Nacogdoches, Texas.
To replace Underwood, the university hired Kyle Keller to try and retain the program's momentum. On paper, hiring Keller was not the sexiest of options, considering he has no previous head coaching experience. But he does comes with 25 years of experience as an assistant coach at major programs such as Texas A&M, Kansas, Oklahoma State, Louisiana Tech and UTSA. That means Keller has some deep-rooted recruiting ties throughout Texas and Louisiana, which is what will be needed to maintain the Lumberjacks' recent stranglehold atop the Southland Conference.
Stephen F. Austin returns two key starters from last year’s squad in 6-5 junior guard Ty Charles and 6-8 sophomore forward TJ Holyfield, who was second on the team in field goal percentage behind Walkup. Keller and his staff were busy recruiting to fill those holes, bringing in seven new players, including 5-foot-11 guard Aaron Augustin from Suwanee, GA. Augustin turned down at least eight other schools to come to SFA and has an explosive first step, can create space for his own shots and likes to get his teammates involved as well. 6-7 forward Leon Gilmore III comes to SFA well travelled, having played his freshman year at Creighton before moving to Trinity Valley Community College. The athletic lefty should make an immediate impact in the Lumberjacks' starting five.
Former Stephen F. Austin student Don Henley of The Eagles coined the lines "kick em when they’re up, kick em when they’re down," and rival colleges in the Southland have been trying either tactic unsuccessfully for years. The lingering question for the Lumberjacks moving into this season will be if the new kid in town (Keller) can take them to the limit and reach a fourth consecutive NCAA tournament.