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March 18, 2011
From the Hardwood
The end of an extremely trying season for ULM seemed as if it couldn't happen soon enough.
The struggling Warhawks gave it a fight, but in the end, it wasn't enough, as ULM dropped its opening-round game of the Sun Belt tournament with a 66-50 loss to Western Kentucky. The Warhawks got within four points late, but WKU used a 12-0 run to close the game, putting a stop to a dismal 7-24 debut season for former ULM player and current coach Keith Richard.
"I thought it was a hard-fought game. I thought the game was much like our season, a carbon copy of our season in terms of did a lot of good things not enough over and over throughout the year, and I think tonight was no different," Richard said. "I thought we had things right where we needed to have them like we've had so many times, just not enough to make it happen. I thought Western Kentucky's the two all-league players flexed their muscles in the second half; that certainly helped them."
Richard inherited one of the more difficult rebuilding projects in the Sun Belt this season, and he was forced to basically recruit an entire roster for the 2010-11 season after his spring hiring.
ULM returned just a handful of players with Division I basketball experience, and the lack of overall depth showed.
Richard has stated all along that he's in it for the long haul, as he's committed to restoring order to his alma mater both on the court and in the classroom. With the pains of a first-year gauntlet now in the past, the first-year coach can continue working to rebuild the program.
• Junior G Fred Brown, a former Kansas State player, proved to be a bit of a building block for the Warhawks this season, and he'll take his 13.8 points per game into next season as the team's unquestioned leader. An effective deep shooter, Brown should be poised for a breakout year next season.
• Junior G Hugh Mingo provided a nice surprise for coach Keith Richard this season, becoming one of the team's most called upon players overall. On an inconsistent club, Mingo finished eighth in the Sun Belt in minutes played at just over 33 per game. He'll be relied upon heavily once again next season.
Final Record: 7-24, 2-14, sixth in Sun Belt Conference West
2010-11 Season Recap: The inexperienced and rebuilding Warhawks started the season at 2-7 against a relatively weak non-conference schedule and never really recovered. ULM didn't record its first Sun Belt win of the season until Jan. 15 against South Alabama, and then it didn't win again over its next nine games.
The highlight of the year came on Feb. 19 at North Texas, when the struggling Warhawks stunned defending Sun Belt champion North Texas by seven on the road.
Quote To Note: "I think the younger guys are going to be all right next year. They need to figure out what all we did wrong this year. We've got room for improvement. They are hanging their heads enough, so that's a good thing, so they use that early. That way they can mature and grow, but I think they will be all right."-Senior F Lawrence Gilbert, after the team's loss to Western Kentucky in the Sun Belt tournament.
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
The Good News: It can't get any worse for ULM. Coach Keith Richard entered the season expecting a struggle, and that's exactly what he got. But Richard brings stability to the program as a former player and a person who is dedicated to building the program from the ground up. The Warhawks were simply outmanned this season, and that should change once Richard works an entire recruiting season for 2011-12. It'll be a long road, but rock bottom has been hit-and things can't get any lower.
The Bad News: ULM still has a long, long way to go on and off the court within its men's basketball program. The Warhawks were sanctioned by the NCAA for a poor academic record in 2007, and they still seem to be recovering. On the floor, ULM has to find a way to convince new players to enter a program that seems to be at a low point.
Key Returnees: Fred Brown and Hugh Mingo will be the glue for the entire roster in 2011-12. Brown was the team's leading scorer this season at just under 14 points per game, and he has the overall ability to be one of the top scorers in the entire Sun Belt. Mingo was a very steady player offensively, averaging nearly eight points per game, and he proved to be a solid defender for a team that lacked defensive togetherness for most of the year. Look for freshmen guard R.J. McCray and forward Steven McClellan to play bigger roles next season. McCray averaged just three points a game in his first season with the Warhawks, but the Arlington, Texas native will be the third highest field goal shooter returning. The highest shooting percentage belongs to McClellan, with 51%. In addition to his hot hand from the floor, McClellan was the leading shot blocker for the Warhawks this season.
• Senior F Lawrence Gilbert ended his final season as the Sun Belt's third-best free-throw shooter, hitting at 85 percent.
• Senior F Tommie Sykes was one of the most active offensive rebounders in the Sun Belt this season, collecting 92 offensive boards in 30 games, third best in the league.