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In a seemingly innocuous exhibition against their cross state Jesuit counterpart, SLU may have suffered their worst loss of the season. One day before being named to the A-10 Preseason 1st Team, Javonte Perkins came down awkwardly while driving the lane in the first half against Rockhurst University. In obvious pain, the 5th year senior hobbled off the court with the help of the SLU trainers. Perkins, a JUCO transfer who exercised his right to an additional year of eligibility under the NCAA’s COVID exemption policy, was poised to be the focal point of the SLU offense as he prepared himself for a pro career. By all accounts a great player and person, Perkins will be sorely missed and I wish him the best of luck in his recovery.
With the season opener against Central Arkansas less than 2 weeks away, Travis Ford needs to recalibrate and ready the Billikens for a Perkins-less campaign. Already having to adjust to the post-Goodwin/French era of SLU basketball, Coach Ford now has to replace 53% of last year’s point production. If Saint Louis wants to make a return to the Big Dance, it’s going to have to find those points somewhere, but where?
Starting at point guard since stepping on campus as a freshman, Yuri Collins is now SLU’s de facto leader on the court. While his pass-first mentality and elite court vision have placed him in a more deferential role offensively, the absence of Jordan Goodwin and now Javonte Perkins should breed a more aggressive Collins. The third year sophomore has shown flashes of his ability to dribble-penetrate and finish over taller defenders, but he may need to tap into that skillset more frequently this season. Previously, SLU would yield to Perkins’ pure scoring ability and allow him to play isolation to score points when the offense was stalling. Without a proven iso player on the roster, it is Collins’ responsibility to use his creativity and ball handling ability to facilitate the offense.
Luckily for Yuri, Coach Ford has assembled an arsenal of shooters for the point guard to utilize. With reports of Kobe-esque sessions in the gym, I’m excited for Gibson Jimerson to showcase his sharpshooting from all over the court. Resident Energizer bunny Terence Hargrove Jr was looking to have an increased role this season prior to the injury news, and his shooting stroke should net him even more minutes to make an impact for Team Blue. Transfers Rashad Williams and Deandre Jones both were long range threats before arriving at Chaifetz as well. As mentioned in my last article, SLU has never finished better than 125th in terms of 3FG% (20-21) under Travis Ford, and have only improved in that area each year he’s been at Saint Louis. Even without Javonte, the Billikens should have plenty of spacing to allow Collins to operate. With this new dimension to the offense, I fully anticipate big men Martin Linssen, Lassina Traore and Francis Okoro to thrive in the post, but more importantly, in the pick and roll. Hasahn French is a bonafide Billiken legend, and scored many of his points operating as an anchor in the pick and roll in half court sets. Unfortunately for the Slovenian basketball star, he didn’t have the luxury that comes with having perimeter shooting to spread out defenses. Fortunately for Oregon transfer Francis Okoro, he won’t have to worry about that issue. Instead, look for Coach Ford to create one on one matchups in the low post for his star transfer while Collins is able to weave throughout the half court and break down the defense.
In summary, Javonte Perkins is an irreplaceable talent that will require a collective effort from a deep and talented roster to account for his lost production. There is one caveat to that idea, however. His name is Jordan Nesbitt. After wowing spectators at the intrasquad scrimmage, I proposed the idea that Nesbitt has the talent and potential to be the best player on the court, regardless if he’s sharing it with Javonte Perkins, Kyle Lofton, or Johnny Juzang. This should come as no surprise. A top 50 recruit, Nesbitt has the pedigree of a high major star. He has an NBA frame as a lengthy and agile 6’6 wing. He is capable of playing anywhere from the 1 to the 4 and can score from anywhere. While he doesn’t possess the polished midrange game that Perkins has, he still can score from all three levels. Nesbitt is a true X factor for this team. While a breakout is not a necessity, his emergence as a star could propel the Billikens to a memorable season in the face of adversity.