It was only a few weeks ago when things were looking bright for Saluki hoops.
Blessed with good timing, yours truly was able to sit down with Southern Illinois men's basketball head coach Chris Lowery a few weeks ago in Carrier Mills, Ill. Lowery was there to speak to youngsters and encourage them to strive to be their best and be on their best behavior for the upcoming school year.
Afterward, I caught up with Lowery and chatted about everything from old times on the Saluki beat, our favorite Michael Jordan memories ... and eventually the future of Saluki basketball.
The SIU front man seemed to express plenty of optimism in regard to the 2009-10 team. Sure, it lost senior leader Bryan Mullins. But the team was also rid of distractions, controversy and other in-house issues that plagued the team during a disappointing 13-18 season.
After a summer that saw improvements by players such as Kevin Dillard and Nick Evans on the court and in the weight room, you couldn't blame Lowery for feeling good about an upcoming season with a favorable schedule that will feature 17 home games on the docket.
And then guard Ryan Hare found himself in trouble with the law.
I'm not sure of all the details, so I won't go as far as to talk about what I've heard. But on paper, charges such as "aggravated battery" and "criminal trespassing on a residence after a fight" should not be taken likely. Hare has been suspended indefinitely from the program, but what that means at this point is still debatable until further notice.
The good news, if there is such a thing, is that Lowery has already been in this predicament -- having to suspend guards Stetson Hairston and Mike Dale prior to the 2004-05 season for their legal issues. They were later reinstated. Jamaal Tatum had to serve his time as well thanks to a DUI charge. I say this is good news because Lowery already knows how to handle off-the-court adversity, which will help greatly for a team that is still young despite being a year older.
Of the Lowery Era suspensions, Tatum has gone on to become a role model in the southern Illinois region with his basketball camps for kids and other community service deals. Hairston has taken a positive step forward as well, as he now molds the minds and skill sets of young basketball players as a coach. Mike Dale and I once had a class together. I say once because I saw him on the first day of class and never saw him again. He left the team that season and has never been heard from again.
The point is that Lowery is the kind of coach that prides himself on the development of his players on and off the court. You should hear him gush over Mullins' success in the classroom, on the court, and now, overseas. The same can be said about other pupils such as Matt Shaw and Randal Falker -- both of whom came back this summer to visit Lowery and the Saluki basketball family after successful stints in Spain and France, respectively.
So, what's next for Lowery's basketball family? Probably a healthy dose of discipline. I reckon the remaining Saluki ballers will be on their best behavior until the clouds clear on this situation. If not, darker days will loom for my alma mater's basketball team.