COLUMBUS, Oh. -- What could have been. Anyone around the Saint Louis University basketball program has heard that sentence. As much as the players and coaches want to look forward, perhaps taking a peek in the past is key to understanding what got them here today.
The Billikens are 25-7 and are making their first NCAA Tournament appearance since 2000. SLU head coach Rick Majerus has dealt with a fair amount during his tenure in Midtown. In 2009, the Bills finished 23-13 and were on the cusp of an NIT berth after finishing fourth in a quality Atlantic 10. With hopes and optimism at its pinnacle, Majerus received news that threatened to throw his program into a tailspin. Kwamain Mitchell and Willie Reed, his top two players, had been removed from the team and neither would see the floor. The freshman played, losses were taken, and growing pains were had.
That difficulty has allowed for a successful team this year. After assuming significant rules as freshmen, second-year players Dwayne Evans, Mike McCall, Jordair Jett, and Rob Loe were the fourth through seventh-leading scorers this season, respectively. With youth weighing so prevalently in the lineup, senior Brian Conklin and Mitchell, now a redshirt junior, have provided much-needed leadership.
Conklin was tabbed as a first team all-conference performer after leading SLU in scoring with 13.9 points per game and finishing second in scoring with an average of 4.8 boards.
After four years, the 6-foot-7 MBA student has finally his reason for coming to SLU -- to reach the NCAA Tournament. With the plethora of adversity that he's faced in his time there, it's no surprise that Conklin doesn't feel any different in this new element.
"You know, not really," he admits. "You play in tournaments, state tournaments where we had 12,000 people there. We've played in front of big crowds before."
Senior Kyle Cassity, Conklin's best friend and four-year roommate, has also dealt with his fair share of difficulities as a Billiken.
For his first three years, the Tamaroa, Ill. native played a prominent role fo has not only seen his plar SLU. This year, though, with an influx of talented guards, he has not only seen his playing time decrease, but also his spot in the starting five replaced by McCall.
A "win at all costs" player, Cassity has adapted to his new position on the team quite well. He didn't even start on Senior Night against Xavier because he didn't want to interrupt the flow of the team. When he sees the court, Majerus and Conklin attest to his importance.
"Kyle's one of those guys that's a coach on the floor," Conklin said. "He's calling out plays that Coach totally forgets about. Coach Will put a play in three weeks ago and Kyle will bring up that play during a timeout."
It wasn't an easy road, but the senior duo and their head coach are excited for the opportunity.