Thursday night is Senior Night at the PAC as USI’s men’s basketball team plays its final regular-season home game, taking on Bellarmine. The following are Eagles coach Rodney Watson’s thoughts about his senior class:
On point guard Lawrence Thomas – A five-year guy who’s been through everything we’ve been through. He’s part of our foundation. His role has been so unique because the ball has been in his hands three years in a row and he has to make so many decisions all the time. He’s a senior in the full sense of the word. He’s really produced and taken things seriously. He’s serious about his school work and is the kind of young man we want to turn out here.
On forward Taylor Wischmeier – “Wisch” came here under different circumstances. We usually red shirt our freshmen. He came in a year when our numbers were down (in the post) and we needed him to gain some experience as a freshman, and we’ve been leaning on him a long time. We’ve been leaning on him since he stepped on campus. He takes care of his business off the court, in the classroom and is steady on the court and has been a good teammate.
On center Aaron Nelson – He came in as a guy that had enormous talent and we saw it right away. It took him awhile to get going. But in the Philander Smith game, he took off in November (2012). And when Keith (DeWitt, last season’s post player) got hurt and was out for a month, Aaron continued to flourish. Then, as fate would have it on Jan. 20 (2013), Aaron got that (season-ending) knee injury. With a lot of guys going into their fourth year of college, it would have been easy for him to say, “These are the cards I’ve been dealt and things haven’t gone my way, so I’ll go do something else.” But he had surgery and rehab and came back. And to go and get all those double-doubles (in points and rebounds), I’m not gonna say that (record) will stand as long as Joe DiMaggio’s hit record, but there will be comparisons to it. It took 20 years to break the (USI double-doubles) record. The thing that we forget as fans and a lot of times as coaches is that all of his baskets and rebounds are coming under duress. He never gets a clean look.
On forward Orlando Rutledge – A very talented player. A guy that kind of changed his body language, which is kind of hard to do. He’s very quiet natured. To figure him out you had to look at him. This year, coming off the academic (suspension) situation (first semester), that first month was really tough. Instead of just giving up, he stayed with it. The big thing is he became more stoic, with less expression on his face. His expressions were so complicated to figure out. He was not a guy of words but a guy of expressions. Once he limited his expressions, his teammates and coaches found out how to play with him. Right now he’s playing about as well as anybody in this league.
On forward Manny Ogunfolu – Manny has been in an unusual situation also. It took him a year to figure out what was happening and he had a really good off-season and turned himself into a really good jump shooter. Then he tweaked his knee and he’s just now getting it back. The great thing about Manny is he’s a gentleman. I know he’s been disappointed in how we’ve played him up and down. But school has been really important to him and he graduates this spring. He’s a guy you know that four years from now he’s going to be just fine.
On guard Ben Jones – He’s a third-year guy who we really wish we could have gotten him out of high school. We really regret not having the opportunity to redshirt him. He’s hard working on the court and every bit as hard working off the court. He’s an absolute gentleman, a first class individual. He’s somebody who will also graduate this spring and go on and be an instant success. I’m anxious to follow him his whole life.
On center Chuck Jones – He showed up on our doorstep and kind of sacred me when he walked in. He didn’t know what he wanted. The first year unfortunately he had that (shouilder) injury. He took to rehab and worked so hard this summer and was not disappointed in any respect. We saw what he could do this summer once he rehabbed, and he’s proven it. Whether he’s coming off the bench or starting a game, he’s been a real factor in this 20-win season, He’s given us real depth in the post. He’s a gentleman and fun to coach. He takes what you say and takes it even further. He’s living proof that hard work pays off and his whole life will embody that.
On guard DeAndre McCamey – There’s a guy who got hurt early in his junior year and then it didn’t’ seem like rehab went quite as smoothly as the others’ did. We were so void of a backup ball handler and that was his mission to be a backup ball handler to LT (Lawrence Thomas). He then hurt his ACL early in January. He had some good games up and some down. But his legacy is not what he did on the court, but being a good teammate. He could have been swallowed in a pity party. He’s been a good roommate and a good teammate. He takes school very seriously. He’s appreciated USI and what it’s done for him and he’ll take it and be very, very successful.