Despite losing program legends Hasahn French and Jordan Goodwin, there is still plenty of hype hovering over Chaifetz Arena. (The Billikens came in at #2 in the A10 Talk Preseason Power Rankings.) Saint Louis held its first open practice this past Friday as it gears up for the season. Over the course of two separate 16 minute mini-games complete with referees and all, the Bills battled with their own teammates. Thankfully, I was lucky enough to be in attendance. Here’s what I saw.
Jordan Nesbitt will make an immediate impact.
Billikens fans said goodbye to Jordan Goodwin this past spring, but it’s time to say hello to the new Jordan in town. Nesbitt was clearly the best player on the floor during the 32 minutes of the intrasquad scrimmage, a remarkable feat given that he was sharing the floor with A10 POY candidate, Javonte Perkins. The St. Louis native was both aggressive and efficient with the ball in his hands, shooting 8 of 11 from the floor over the course of both scrimmages. His play improved as the practice progressed, highlighted by THIS alley-oop from Yuri Collins. Nesbitt demonstrated the athleticism and skill set expected of a top 50 recruit, rather than a transfer coming off a season of limited minutes. If and when Travis Ford gets him on the court, the new Jordan will play with the confidence he may have lacked at Memphis now that he is home in St. Louis.
The offense will rely much more on the 3.
The 2021-22 Billikens are constructed a bit differently than the Javon Bess and Jordan Goodwin led teams of years past. SLU has never finished higher than 125th in the nation in 3pt % under Travis Ford (2020-21), but that was a marked improvement from the 2019 A-10 champs who ranked 337th in the same statistic. Coach Ford still has strong, downhill ball handlers on the perimeter by the likes of Yuri Collins, Fred Thatch and Jordan Nesbitt, but I expect this team to have the green light from deep. Friday, Gibson Jimerson was his typical self, making a handful of three-point shots in various spots and situations. The aforementioned Nesbitt was lights out from beyond the arc Friday, making 6 of 8 triples. A true 3 level scorer, Javonte Perkins is always liable to catch fire from deep in addition to his patented midrange J. Standing out was the newly approved transfer, Rashad Williams, who made several shots from deep. Not to be ignored are Central Arkansas transfer Deandre Jones, a career 39% 3-point shooter and TJ Hargrove, whose shot improved significantly last season and looks to be trending in the same direction.
Javonte Perkins is an elite scorer.
This doesn’t require much elaboration, but Perkins showcased his ability to hit shots of NBA level difficulty while retaining his efficiency. Any Atlantic 10 defender drawing him as an assignment should be terrified this season.
Lassina Traore will get meaningful minutes off the bench.
A late addition to this past recruiting class, much was unknown about the 6’9 center entering this scrimmage. At 215 pounds, the Ivorian freshman possesses a D1 frame and demonstrated his ability to use it down low. Highly touted Oregon transfer Francis Okoro is an imposing figure in his own right, but the younger Traore held his own, playing strong and physical in the low block and on the glass. Traore provided energy while making a visible impact on both ends of the floor. I fully anticipate Coach Ford using him to provide much needed depth in the frontcourt by spelling Okoro and Martin Linssen to keep them fresh and out of foul trouble.