It was a free article so posting the Q&A part:
What is Saint Louis’ ceiling for this year? Will they build upon their conference tournament run from last year or take a step back after losing some key seniors? — Andy T.
Here at The Athletic, we strive to be conscious about our college basketball environment. Sometimes that means locally sourcing our Mailbag answers. So I called Saint Louis coach Travis Ford directly for the freshest replies.
You lost some key guys, but you do have some productive guys coming back, where this won’t be their first rodeo. What do you think you have to work with, in terms of what you lost and what you have to replace it?
The makeup of our team is just like total opposites, from last year to this year, as far as experienced to very inexperienced. With that said, with our inexperience, we do have three core guys that played very significant minutes last year that I would compete with any day of the week: Jordan Goodwin, Haassan French and Fred Thatch. These were high-minute guys last year. Jordan and Hasaan have started almost every game since their freshman year, so they’re old juniors. Played in the NCAA Tournament last year. And then Fred Thatch played some major, major minutes in big moments last year and made big plays for us. We think a lot of our success is going to come from those three guys. Not just their play and production, but their leadership. How well they lead these other seven new players we’re putting around him, as well as a couple guys that were hurt last year and didn’t play a lot.
We feel like we’ve improved our team. By the time we hit the NCAA Tournament last year, we were basically playing six, maybe seven guys, and didn’t go past seven. We feel like we’re a lot deeper. We’ve improved our shooting and scoring. We’ve improved our skill level.
When you look at those three core guys, what were the basketball-specific areas for each one to really hone this summer?
Jordan, obviously improving his perimeter shooting as well as his free-throw shooting. That’s the next step for him, and he’s worked very, very hard on it over the summer. Hasaan, obviously free throws, and continuing to expand his game. He’s probably our best one-on-one player off the dribble. His bread and butter is that he’s hard to stop around the rim, but we want to get him away from the rim and be able to take guys off the dribble a little bit. That’s an area we’ve worked on.
And Fred, I think, will make as big a jump as anybody in the country from his freshman year to his sophomore year, stat-wise and what we expect out of him. We’ve just been really impressed with him over the summer, how he’s made strides, how he’s worked on his shooting. We’re expecting him to be a double-digit scorer. Taking the next step as far as, all right, you were a role player last year, and now you’re a guy we’re going to count on to be the best defender in our league. We lose Javon Bess, who was defensive player of the year in the A-10. I think Fred Thatch could be just as good, as a sophomore, defensively, but also jump up and average 14, 15, 16 points a game.
You never know with new guys, but any of them stand out this summer as players who definitely can help you?
All of our freshmen are a little bit different. We have a true point guard in Yuri Collins, which we haven’t had since we’ve been here, that’s really stood out. Gibson Jimmerson is one of the elite shooters in the country coming out of prep school, who’s going to really play a lot of minutes for us, just because he’s 6-5, 6-6 and can really score and shoot it. It stands out on our team. It’s something we need. You got athleticism in D.J. Hargrove.
Probably the biggest surprise of the summer, in that he’s better than we anticipated — and I told him that — is Jimmy Bell. Six-10, 280. He’ll be a major player on our basketball team. Great hands, great feet. Physical presence. He knows he’s big and uses his strength. A guy who embraces who he is. We’ve just been impressed with how he knows how to play. He’s so big, but he moves well. He’s a problem down low. He is a problem. He knows how to score.
We’ve tried to address our needs. We obviously struggled in the past putting the ball in the hole. And we think we’ve improved ourselves in that area.
So what is the ceiling for you guys?
Whenever you add seven new players, it’s obviously about figuring everything out. It’s going to take time. We put together a very tough schedule. But we think, physically and talent-wise, we’re going to be able to compete in what I think will be the best A-10 in the past 10 years. It’s going to be a lot for our team because we’re so young. But if we can get that leadership from those three core guys, then we have a chance. But again, it’s just going to take a while. It’s not going to happen overnight with this team, where last year we got out of the gates on fire.