The Alton Redbirds boys’ basketball team is having a busy summer.
The Redbirds are playing in the Southwestern Illinois College summer league as well as participating in shootouts at Morris, Glenwood and Lincoln high schools.
“We have a pretty full summer schedule,” Alton coach Eric Smith said. “When it’s all said and done, we’ll probably have somewhere around 35 games this summer and the kids are being competitive and have done a nice job of getting some kids some experience. Hopefully, it will pay off.”
Alton is not the only Southwestern Conference school playing basketball this summer.
Belleville East, Belleville West, East St. Louis, Edwardsville, Granite City and O’Fallon also are participating in leagues and tournaments around the state.
The Warriors also are playing in the SWIC summer league. They also practice Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays and work out in the weight room.
“Hopefully, that will fall right into place with fall workouts and preparing for the upcoming season,” Granite City coach Raffi Karibian said.
The eight schools are getting prepared for the 2016-17 season, which will start Dec. 3 inside the Vadalabene Center at SIUE. All eight schools will begin their season in the inaugural Southwestern Conference Tip-Off, which will have four games featuring all eight teams. Each school will play one game at this one-day event.
“It’s a chance to see all eight Southwestern Conference schools play at one time to kind of kick off the beginning of the season,” Granite City athletics director John Moad said.
The Warriors will be the host school of the SWC Tip-Off. The schedule of the games has yet to be announced.
The SWC Tip-Off also will begin the Karibian era at Granite City. In May, Karibian was hired to replace Steve Roustio as the Warriors’ coach.
“I think it’s going to be very exciting and each year, you’ll play a different conference opponent at SIUE,” he said. “There will be four games and you’ll play a different opponent each year and obviously, play at SIUE’s arena and a big crowd. It’s a great opportunity for the kids and our school.”
Since it was founded in 1923, the Southwestern Conference is the toughest league south of Springfield. Out of the eight schools, five of them have more than 2,000 students.
Edwardsville coach Mike Waldo said the race for the conference title will be competitive again this winter. A year ago, the Tigers cruised to the league title with a 14-0 record.
“Basketball in this area next year will have more good teams than I can remember in all of my years of coaching basketball,” Waldo said.
Among the top returning players in the conference next year will be Edwardsville’s A.J. Epenesa, Alton’s Maurice Edwards, Belleville East’s Javon Pickett and Belleville West’s E.J. Liddell.
Moad, who is entering his third year as Granite City athletics director, came up with the idea of having the SWC Tip-Off in March.
“We have a good relationship here in Granite City with SIUE and the athletics director, Dr. (Brad) Hewitt,” Moad said. “It’s a win-win for everybody because it showcases our conference.
“It’s a chance for people to see all of our conference schools in one day and it’s also a huge marketing tool for SIUE. You get people on their campus. A lot of people have not been up there since they transitioned to Division I and the Vadalabene Center was redone. What a neat facility it is now.”
Since it opened in Dec. 1984, the Vadalabene Center has hosted numerous big events, including commencement ceremonies, the NCAA Division II wrestling championships, a visit from presidential candidate Bernie Sanders and a concert by rapper Nelly. The arena also was the site for a Guinness World Record for the most people clicking a pen at one time.
Moad said he’s looking forward to seeing more than 100 high school players getting to play in an NCAA Division I school on Dec. 3. SIUE joined Division I in 2007.
“We want to take advantage of a local Division I university,” Moad said. “They play good basketball up there and they’re starting to get some of our players. I know they got the Alton kid (Carlos Anderson) who plays for them and it’s a good way for our athletes to showcase in a Division I school.”
Senior Josh White and redshirt sophomore Tre Harris, both of Edwardsville, also play for the SIUE men’s basketball team.
Smith said he’s looking forward to the SWC Tip-Off.
“Obviously from a conference standpoint, I think it’s a neat idea,” the Alton coach said. “It gives us an opportunity to showcase our conference and see a wide range of kids being able to play. It will be a neat experience. Our kids will get to play at a big arena. The opportunity to play on their campus will be a neat experience for our kids.”
- Collinsville vs. O'Fallon
- Granite City vs. Alton
- Edwardsville vs. Belleville West
- Belleville East vs. East St. Louis
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