Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

For Bills, Magic Number Is a Lot Higher Than 6

Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

For Bills, Magic Number Is a Lot Higher Than 6

Article excerpt

The coaches of the Great Midwest Conference seem intelligent enough. Fellows such as Bob Huggins, Gene Bartow, Joey Meyer - bright basketball minds with a clue about talent.

They have indicated a pattern involving St. Louis University's Billikens. SLU finished sixth - and last - in the league the last two seasons. Guess where the coaches expect the Bills to finish in this season's seven-team Great Midwest.

Those smart guys picked the Billikens for sixth again.

"No way do we expect that," SLU junior Erwin Claggett said.

With all respect to those people who have come to expect SLU to roll over at the end of most games, the Billikens say they are back. That 5-23 record two seasons ago is a memory; the 12-17 record last season in Charlie Spoonhour's first year as coach was a beginning.

"I'm glad they picked us to finish sixth," senior forward Donnie Dobbs said. "There's no pressure this way. But there's no way it's going to happen."

Junior Scott Highmark, who with Claggett played considerably during that 5-23 season, said he has gone as far as picking out the wins and losses on the SLU schedule. That would have been a laughable idea in the recent past.

Some might laugh when they hear of Highmark's expectations.

"I'm thinking 18 to 20 wins," he said. "I'd be very disappointed if we didn't get that, if we didn't finish at least in the middle of the league. We'd be very disappointed if we didn't make a postseason tournament. We're shooting for the NCAA Tournament."

That's one of the reasons SLU hired Spoonhour away from Southwest Missouri State. The Billikens haven't played in the NCAA Tournament since 1957.

This is the Great Midwest, though. No shame thinking Cincinnati, Memphis State, Marquette, DePaul and Alabama-Birmingham should finish ahead of the Bills. Just who do the Billikens expect to move past?

"Whoever is in the way," Dobbs said. "That's the way I approach it."

You get the idea that there's a new attitude in Billikenland? They realize that the honeymoon probably has ended and that it's time to show some serious progress.

"That's fine," Spoonhour said. "You're lucky if you get any honeymoon. I know it all sounds a little outrageous. Last year if the guys would have said these things, I would have said, `That's no good. You don't know how to be realistic.'

"This year, I'm telling them that they're thinking the right way."

SLU's attitude has changed in part because the returning players have continued their progress. Highmark and Claggett arrived as ballyhooed recruits, sure-shooting guards. Each has scored more than 800 points the last two seasons. Even with routine performances this season, they should move into the top 10 career scorers in school history.

But they need to do more than score. And they are ready to lend some versatility.

A bulked-up Highmark - now 6 feet 5 and 205 pounds - will play considerably at forward. …

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