NORMAL — Point guard Darius Burford is among six transfers brought in by new Illinois State basketball head coach Ryan Pedon and his team. They join six scholarship players who stayed from last season.
The start of summer school this week brought everyone together for the first time. Thankfully, Burford said the name tags weren’t really necessary.
“I feel like we’ve already started the bonding process and we’re almost there,” said Burford, a Bolingbrook native who transferred from Elon. “Guys hit me, ‘let’s get some food and go to the gym.’ Little things like that make it go fast. Give us another 2-3 weeks and we’ll be peas in a pod.”
Pedon let the players compete in structured open gyms for most of the first week before having a team meeting on Thursday to set up formal workouts starting next week.
“First of all, I want to establish who we are, how we are going to play and what we are going to do, on and off the pitch,” Pedon said. “It’s important to me that they understand the fundamentals of our program…focus on the building blocks from which we will start and continue to grow.”
Senior forward Kendall Lewis, the only returning starter on last season’s 13-20 squad, thinks understanding Pedon’s “basics” is key this summer.
“If we get the basics in over the summer, we can add new things (when school starts),” said Lewis, who averaged 9.3 points and 5.7 rebounds starting 33. matches. “Culture is a big thing for him, establishing who we are off the pitch. He always says the little details come together to build it all. Everyone has to be bought.”
Indeed, learning the new offensive and defensive patterns is only part of what Pedon wants to put in place before the start of the school year.
“We have a class called ‘Beyond Hoops’ that we’re going to teach our players,” Pedon said, following what Ohio State did where he was an assistant before coming to ISU. “A lot of this focuses on the DNA of our program and our core values, but also focuses on life skills.
“We talked during recruitment about development and our development model which is four-pronged – developing our student-athletes as people, players, students and athletes. Most programs probably focus on players and athletes We focus on the four areas because they’re all important to us.”
As a playmaker, Burford knows a lot is falling on his 6-foot shoulders to get everyone together as quickly as possible.
He willingly accepts responsibility.
“Coaches can only give us the plan. We have to go out and execute it,” Burford said. “Getting to know each other and bonding with each other is the most important thing.”
Burford and his roommate, Virginia transfer guard Malachi Poindexter, helped set the tone early on.
“Defensively I always come with pressure. Malachi and Darius come with the same intensity too,” Lewis said. “At open gyms, it’s the two who go. I love it.”
“Playing against each other, we’re competing. Every time we pick up, we’re always competing against each other,” Burford said. “Iron sharpens iron. It’s really fun.”
McChesney in Canada
Junior forward Liam McChesney won’t be joining his teammates for some time. The BC native is trying out for Canada’s Under-23 team ahead of the GLOBL JAM Fives tournament, to be held July 5-10 in Toronto.
McChesney is one of 22 players on trial. If he makes the team, the 6-10 McChesney won’t return to campus until mid-July.
Pedon said junior forward Alston Andrews had just had knee arthroscopy and was being held off for the time being. Newcomer Seneca Knight, a 6-7 winger who played last season at Brigham Young, underwent thumb surgery in the spring and will be brought in slowly.
Pedon said the ISU non-conference schedule has been established and will be announced when all contracts are signed.
Rocco Miller, a college basketball bracketologist/analyst, reported on Twitter that the Redbirds have a home-and-home series with Northwestern State. The ISU travels to Natchitoches, Louisiana on Nov. 12 with a rematch Nov. 17 at Redbird Arena.
Pedon said a rematch at Redbird Arena against Northern Kentucky from 2019 was pushed back to the 2023-24 season.
The ISU is also competing in the Cayman Islands Classic Nov. 21-23 with Akron, Kansas State, LSU, Nevada, Rhode Island, Tulane and Western Kentucky. Tournament pairings have not been released.
The Missouri Valley Conference schedule is usually released in late August or early September. For the first time, there will be 20 MVC matches instead of 18, with the league expanding to 12 teams.
Pedon will be at team practices Monday and Tuesday before reconnecting with two of his Ohio State players for the NBA Draft.
Ohio State head coach Chris Holtmann and Pedon fly to New York on Wednesday to spend the night before the draft with Malaki Branham, a guard who played a season with the Buckeyes and was invited to the “green room” for Thursday’s draft.
The next day, Holtmann and Pedon will fly to Belleville to spend a draft night with former Belleville West star EJ Liddell, a Big Ten forward who played three seasons with Ohio State. Liddell, the son of former ISU athletes Eric (soccer) and Michelle (volleyball), is expected to be chosen in the second half of the first round.
Photos: Illinois State welcomes new basketball head coach Ryan Pedon
Watch now: New Illinois State basketball coach Ryan Pedon speaks to the media on Monday
Watch now: Illinois State AD Kyle Brennan introduces new basketball coach Ryan Pedon
Contact Jim Benson at (309) 820-3404. Follow him on Twitter: @Pg_Benson