Photo by Bill Roseberry
Former Marquette Explorer Deion Lavender brings the ball up court for the Southern Illinois Carbondale Salukis in a Dec. 3 game at the Vadalabene Center in Edwardsville against the SIUE Cougars.
EDWARDSVILLE — Deion Lavender is the first to admit it. He’s undergoing a learning curve playing NCAA Division I college basketball.
The former Marquette Catholic High standout is picking up pointers as a freshman for Southern Illinois University Carbondale. The 6-foot-3 guard noted it’s a major change for him thus far this season.
He had two rebounds and didn’t score in 5 minutes, 45 seconds of play on Dec. 3 when the Salukis defeated the SIUE Cougars, 79-67, in front of 3,508 fans at the Vadalabene Center.
“It was a good win for us because we executed our game,” Lavender said. The Salukis led 61-34 at one point in the second half before settling for the 12-point win. They are 7-0 against the Cougars in a rivalry series dating to 1985.
Lavender added, “We got some stops and did what we are supposed to do. It was fun to come home and play here. It’s always nice to do that and have the support of my family and friends.”
“I think there were a few more people here (for me) than there was in the game at Saint Louis University.”
The Salukis bowed to the Billikens, 62-59, on Nov. 15 before 10,015 fans at the Chaifetz Arena. Lavender played 15 minutes in that game and didn’t score. He did net 12 points on Nov. 23 in a 67-60 victory over UIC in Kent, Ohio. Lavender went 4-for-8 with four rebounds and two assists in that game.
“That’s the kid we thought could play like that,” SIUC coach Barry Hinson said afterward. “He was aggressive both offensively and defensively.”
Lavender knows he needs to become more assertive and play with more consistency. It’s a work in progress.
“I’m trying to get adjusted to college basketball,” he said. “I need to be more aggressive on both ends of the court.”
He’s figuring additional playing time will help him make major strides. Freshman teammate Chaz Glotta, a guard from Fort Zumwalt North in O’Fallon, Mo., made the most of his opportunity against SIUE. He sank 4 of 6 shots, including 3 of 5 treys, and scored 13 points in 15 minutes.
“Chaz hasn’t played that much, but he’s had a great attitude in practice,” Hinson said. “He’s not soft and he doesn’t pout. The little stinker can shoot all day long.”
Hinson also foresees good things from Lavender and redshirt freshman Armon Fletcher of Edwardsville. Fletcher did dress for the SIUE game.
“Deion is a prolific scorer, but he’s struggling a bit now with the transition to the college game. Just remember, though, he’s a freshman,” Hinson said.
As for Fletcher, his coach said, “I think Armon has a huge upside.”
The 6-5 Fletcher enjoyed the chance to return to his hometown, even if he didn’t get to play.
“It was nice coming back here and seeing everybody,” Fletcher said. “So it was a good experience for me. I understand what they (coaches) want me to do this year. It’s a good situation for me. I want to become a better player.”
The same goes for Lavender, who averaged 25.5 points per game last season for 22-7 Marquette. He watched SIUC teammate Anthony Beane pour in a game-high 28 points against SIUE.
“That’s just him and what he does,” Lavender said of Beane, the scoring machine.
For Lavender, it amounts to waiting his turn. The Salukis, the youngest team in the Missouri Valley Conference, showcase six freshmen.
“I didn’t play too much tonight,” Lavender said of the game with SIUE. “Everybody wants to play more.”
He likely will get more opportunities as the Salukis move into MVC play. And there’s at least a couple of more games against SIUE. The Salukis and Cougars have renewed their rivalry for the next two years. They’ll meet next December in Carbondale and in 2016 at Edwardsville.
Come 2015, Lavender will get to hook up against Alton High senior Carlos Anderson, a top SIUE recruit. That could make things more exciting.
“It’ll be fun to play against him in college,” Lavender said.
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