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November 27, 2012The past two seasons of ULM men's basketball have been nothing to note. The start of the 2012-13 season has been bumpy too, but Head Coach Keith Richard believes there's a light at the end of the tunnel to get the Warhawks back atop the Sun Belt Conference standings.
"We are excited in part because in the early part of this season there have been some minutes of play that we can build on," Richard said. "Obviously there have been some bad minutes of play too, that has cost us both games, but we really like some of the things we are doing and hope to keep getting better."
So far in early action, the Warhawks have fallen on the road to non-conference foes Oklahoma and Louisiana Tech. Both game saw ULM come out swinging though, leading early on before big runs by the opponent put the games out of reach.
Part of the team's good play early on is due to several new faces on the hardwood.
"I think that one of the neat things about this year's team is that we've been paralyzed in recruiting," Richard said. "It's really stymied us from moving the program forward on the floor. We've done really well off the floor on academics, and fixed those problems. This allowed us to get our scholarships back in the spring, and for the first time since I've been back here, we've been able to get back out in the recruiting game. Amos (Olatayo), Jayon (James), and Millaun (Brown) were our three signees. When fans watch us play, these three guys are a ray of hope for us, and they are going to play a lot of minutes for us; they are the cornerstone of us rebuilding."
Olatayo rolled to a career high 21 points in the season opener at Oklahoma and is averaging 14 points per game entering conference play. Brown is shooting 60% from the floor in early action, while James is second on the team in rebounding.
In addition to these new faces, the return of Trent Mackey, RJ McCray, Marcelis Hansberry, and Trey Lindsey give the foundation to depth needed to continue the program's rebuilding.
More changes to the program include the addition of assistants Ryan Cross and Lonnie Cooper.
"I'm extremely happy with our staff we have right now," Richard said. "A big problem that we've had is continuity in coaching staff. We've had a pair leave for more money and to be with programs in better shape than ours, which I don't blame them for doing. We also had one assistant leave the coaching profession all together. The thing with Lonnie and Ryan, I think they are going to be here for the long run, and Cord (Wright) has been here from the start, so for the longevity of putting a competitive team on the floor, we have the right staff in place."
In addition to returning to his alma mater as head coach, Richard has tasked himself with building the ULM program up. In his first two seasons, he has retired #12 in honor of Glenn Saulters - the only number retired in the program's history - and hosted a reunion for his fellow teammates on the first NCAA tournament team from 1982. A future reunion is planned for the 1986 team, the school's second trip to the NCAA tournament.
This season fans attending games inside Fant-Ewing Coliseum will notice new banners hanging above the court. Richard had the banners consolidated and updated to the new Warhawk logo, and added one in honor of the 1985 women's final four appearance.
"We have NLU, we had ULM on them, I just wanted it to be all the same and to do it right," he said. "We have new padding coming for the goals, redid the court, and added the advertising scorer's tables and still have more plans in the works. (Athletic Director) Bobby (Staub) has been really good about helping me to do a little bit at a time."
As for what the future holds for the Warhawks and now being eligible for post season play, following their APR sanctions being lifted.
"I don't want to sell this team short, but I will say that the first year of rebuilding a team on the court, goals are not that long range," Richard said. "The norm is not the storybook everything happens and you win; the norm is you have a couple of new players and some excitement and incorporate them into the program; we got that. Usually in the first few years you have depth problems, and we have that; but you have to figure out how to play with what you have and be the best you can be. Finally you have to go out and recruit hard, and that's where we are at. It's not fair to expect these kids to overachieve. I think a good goal for us this year is to do better than we have in the past, while we recruit to bring better players into the program. We are just trying to take a step forward and be better than we were the previous year."
ULM will get a chance to show their progress as three of the next four games are at home, starting with conference action against Western Kentucky on Thursday night.