The State Fair mens basketball team last played a home game at the Fred E. Davis Multipurpose Center on Dec. 3. The Roadrunners are about to come home and they will end up staying for most of January.
With the Region 16 part of State Fair’s schedule about to tip off, the Roadrunners will have five consecutive home games beginning at 7 p.m. Tuesday when SFCC hosts Sunrise Christian Academy in a non-region game. That game will be followed with home dates against Three Rivers, Moberly, ABCD Prep and MSU-West Plains before SFCC hits the road again Jan. 25 to face Mineral Area.
“I think it’s good for our guys to get back acclimated to basketball,” said coach Kevin Thomas. “We can stick around here. I think it’s great for the fans. They get a chance to come out and see us play several times in January. Hopefully they’ll come away with five wins.”
With three of those home dates in January coming against Region 16 rivals, the Roadrunners have a chance to rise to the top of the Region standings early in the race.
“I think the most important thing coming into region play is you’ve got to take care of home court,” Thomas said. “I think it’s very important. There being only eight region games, every game is so critical. We’re just looking to get our team to get better and improve every single day.”
State Fair’s chances of making the NJCAA national tournament get a boost this season. Once every four years, the winner of Region 16 gets an automatic bid instead of having to play the Region 4 champion in the District title game. Whoever wins Region 16 in 2014 gets that bid.
“The winner of our region will still play the winner of the northern Illinois region but it will be for seeding purposes,” Thomas said. “If we win our region tournament this year, we’ll have a stop in the national tournament. We’ll see if we’ll be able to get it done. Our goal is to be playing our best basketball at the end of February. Hopefully we’re peaking at the right time and cut down the nets down at Jefferson.”
State Fair enters the second semester without 7-1 center Isaac Freeman who was dismissed from the team. He averaged 9.9 points per game in eight games in the first semester. Without Freeman, the Roadrunners will look for more production from 6-10 freshman Jean-Louis Wanya and 6-5 freshman Kedar Edwards.
“Right now we have one true center on the roster, Jean-Louis, and we’re playing some undersized guys inside whenever he’s out of the game or in foul trouble,” Thomas said. “We’re going to run some zone and mix it up a little bit.”
In those cases when Wanya is getting a breather, Edwards will stick to his usual spot as the four and Thomas will go with a smaller lineup with 6-3 forward Marcus Mondaine and 6-5 wing player Jerrard Davis.
Davis, a freshman from Chicago, came off the bench in 10 games in the first semester and averaged 4.1 points and 2.2 rebounds per game.
“He’s a big strong kid,” Thomas said. “He can really shoot the three, can finish around the rim through contact. That’s not his natural position but he’s big and strong enough that he can give us some minutes there.”
Thomas wants to see some improvement from his team when it comes to defense and rebounding. On the glass, the Roadrunners were outrebounded in a loss to Iowa Western and badly outrebounded in a win over Coffeyville.
“We just have to have more awareness and focus on it,” Thomas said. “It’s going to be a situation where we’re going to have to have a bunch of guys go in there and grab rebounds. We can’t depend on Jean-Louis and Kedar to get all the rebounds but it’s going to be a team effort.”
That situation reminds Thomas of his playing days, specifically his sophomore year at Three Rivers.
“Our leading rebounder averaged five rebounds a game,” he said. “We had a bunch of guys that were averaging three and four up and down the line. We didn’t have a dominant guy that could go out and grab 13 or 14 boards. We are capable and talented enough to go out there and have a bunch of guys grab several rebounds. We just don’t have that one guy that’s dominant and can eat up the glass.”
That’s something Thomas will be going over with his team in practice this week as the Roadrunners look from more options on the glass. Edwards leads the team with 8.3 rebounds per game but with Freeman gone, State Fair’s next leading rebounder is Kevin Punter with 5.0 per game.
The balanced rebounding Thomas wants mirrors the balanced scoring State Fair already has. Currently five Roadrunners average in double figures. Kevin Punter leads the team with 18.6 points but Joe Thomasson is not far behind averaging 15.7. Edwards averages 14.4, Dondre Alexander 11.4 and Deron Hill 10.4. It was a similar story for last year’s Roadrunners as Punter, Thomasson, Dashawn Stitt and Kenny Cherry all averaged in double figures.
“I think it’s hard to scout a team when you have a bunch of guys that are capable of scoring,” Thomas said. “We have a lot of guys on our roster that are capable of doing that on any given night. You just want to have team balance, especially on the offensive end.”
Among the leading scorers, Hill, Punter and Thomasson are also part of the Roadrunners talented sophomore class, which Thomas hopes will help lead the way as State Fair heads into the second semester.
“We’re going to go as far as those sophomores take us,” Thomas said. “Those guys have been through the wars and been through the battles already and we’re going to be depending on them for leadership and hopefully carry us on through.”