Jon Harris Builds Foundation in First Season with SIUE
March 15, 2016
Jon Harris was clear about his expectations prior to starting his first season as SIUE’s head coach. At OVC Basketball Media Day in October, he said: “We’re trying to lay a foundation and are a process-oriented team…we will try to work our hardest every day.”
That’s exactly what Coach Harris and his staff accomplished during their first season. Even during a tough year when it came to wins and losses, the Cougars showed immense progress. The program undoubtedly has a bright future under a head coach who grew up in Edwardsville.
Here are my key takeaways from the SIUE’s 2015-2016 season:
A PROGRAM BUILT ON HUSTLE
There was one thing that stuck out immediately to our broadcast crew about this team. They played really hard. There was never a night during the Cougars’ season where the team didn’t show hustle and heart. Jon Harris had his team playing with 100% effort every single night…and that was very easy to see from the start.
During OVC play, the Cougars had six losses by five points or less. There were nights where SIUE found themselves down by big numbers at a point and fought back to nearly win games both on the road and at Vadalabene Center.
A game on January 6th versus Belmont was the best example of this team’s never-say-die attitude. The Cougars trailed 42-29 at halftime against the eventual OVC regular season champion, but would battle back to trail by a single point with under five minutes to play.
While they could never get over the hump and take the lead in that game, it was another night where SIUE simply refused to go down quietly. It’s a game that was indicative of the way this group played and the way this program will play moving forward.
ESLIK & ANDERSON LEAD THE WAY
It’s clear that the Cougars have a rising star in Carlos Anderson, who grew up in nearby Alton, Illinois. Anderson never played like a freshman, but rather someone with a veteran’s confidence.
It showed in his numbers, as Anderson averaged 11 points per game in OVC action and pulled down five rebounds per game. With the right development, there’s no doubt that Anderson could turn into one of the conference’s best players.
Meanwhile, the Cougars will have a senior next season in Burak Eslik who led the team in scoring with 14.5 points per game during this past conference season. He shot 41% from three-point range during OVC action and was the only Cougar to rank among the top-20 in scoring.
Eslik was a transfer from Lewis & Clark College who truly burst onto the scene. If he takes a step forward in his senior year and adds a bit more consistency to his scoring, the Cougars will have something special in Eslik next season.
SOPHOMORES WITH POTENTIAL
If there’s one player for SIUE that makes your jaw drop at times, it’s Keenan Simmons. He’s incredibly athletic and can jump out of the gym.
After not playing much at all in his freshman season, the sophomore got serious minutes as the season progressed and showed tremendous potential. He averaged six points and five rebounds per game in the OVC season, while also serving as a legitimate rim protector with 1.5 blocks per game.
Coach Harris has raved about Simmons’ athletic ability and progress in such a short time. He could be a key piece for SIUE moving forward, especially as he develops under this coaching staff.
SIUE also has two other rising juniors to build around: Jalen Henry and C.J. Carr.
Henry is a solid post presence down low and good rebounder who has shown the ability to knock down the mid-range jumper at times during his first two seasons. He should only improve while working with Coach Harris and his staff.
Carr already is one of the better ball handlers in the OVC and has lightning quickness. He ranked second in the OVC this past season in assist/turnover ratio while averaging six points per game. Carr has the ability to be the motor of SIUE’s offense while also sharing minutes with Josh White, who will be a senior next season. They are two point guards who have different styles and could be a solid tandem in the backcourt.