Coach Mike Balado entered the Zoom with his usual wise guy joviality, busting Jeff Reed’s balls and tossing a few light hearted jabs to the disheveled press. For all his volcanic activity on the court (and occasionally on Twitter), Balado has always been cordially chummy with the media, willing to go in depth – and literally wink when asked about recruiting.
But there’s something a little different about Mike Balado on Tuesday, the day before the Red Wolves open the season with an exhibition against the little known Voorhees (no relation to Jason). A bit of the Balado Bravado is tempered. He seems more cautious; more tempered.
“This season will be a collaborative group effort,” says Coach Balado.
Much of the bravado likely departed to Miami with Sun Belt Player of the Year Norchad Omier, who was responsible for the bulk of the Red Wolves offense and defense for last year’s 18-11 season. Also gone, hometown hero Desi Sills, who portaled to Kansas State. Longtime guard Marquis Eaton and forward Keyon Wesley graduated as well, leaving the roster in the hands of veteran Caleb Fields and a motley crew of role players and newbies.
Eight New Guys Enter the Chat
“A lot of new faces now,” remarked Balado during the presser. “It’s hard to determine the strength and weaknesses of the team.”
New faces, indeed. When Omier and Sills left, Balado and his staff got busy, recruiting guys from across the nation and the globe. Julian Luel is a 6’6″ forward from Canada who averaged 14.1 points, 8.9 rebounds and 1.7 assists in one season with McCook. Allaaedine Boutayeb is a 7’2″ transfer from Florida State who moves very well for a big man (he’s also bulked up a bit since arriving to Jonesboro). Terrance Ford averaged 32 points per game in prep school and Izayiah Nelson is a 6’9″ shot blocker. Detick Reeves tallied more than 2,500 points for Marion High School. Dylan Arnette is a 6’3″ junior who who started his college career at TCU.
Omar El-Sheikh may be the team’s most impactful addition. The 6’8″ Egyptian averaged 16.7 points and 9 boards during the exhibition tournament in the Dominican Republic.
One huge addition is Mak Manciel, a 1st Team NJCAA All-American. However, he’s lost for the season with a knee injury.
Balado Will Lean on Veterans
Junior guard Caleb Fields is the de facto team leader – the remaining starter from last year’s squad. But he won’t be the only returner that Balado will rely on. Outside shooters Avery Felts and Malcolm Farrington are expected to make big contributions, with Balado making a point to mention Felts’ growing confidence. Farrington, who shined in the Dominican Republic tournament, is expected to miss the exhibition with Voorhees with a jammed/cracked finger, but should be ready for the regular season.
Also expected to lead: Markise Davis, who Balado describes as a “hybrid forward” with the ability to impact scoring from the paint and the perimeter. In addition, 6’4″ guard Caleb London is back from injury and healthy, providing the Two-Caleb Punch the team missed last season.
Odds and Ends
- The Red Wolves play 18 home games, up from 17 last season.
- Like the majority of Sun Belt schedules, the Red Wolves’ out-of-conference isn’t exactly a juicy buffet of opponents. Arkansas State visits LSU on November 12, and hosts UT-Martin and UA Little Rock before opening conference play against ODU on December 29. If you like SWAC hoops, you’ll love the Red Wolves OCC.
- Coach Mike Balado hinted at a big recruiting addition to be announced by signing day.
- Coach Balado says “we’ll see more three-point attempts” this season. He also likes progress made on defense.
The “big recruiting addition” is revealed.