VERMILLION — McDonald’s All-Americans aren’t coming to Vermillion.
So-called ‘one-and-done’ superstars aren’t either.
A roster isn’t going to feature a handful of future pros.
With that in mind, South Dakota men’s basketball coach Todd Lee knows one thing: Experience matters.
“At the mid-major level, to be good, you’ve got to be old, and we are old,” the second-year head coach said many times leading up to the season.
That’s what the Coyotes boast.
They’ve got plenty of experience.
And that’s why many have tabbed USD as one of the favorites to capture the Summit League tournament title this season and reach its first NCAA Tournament — the Coyotes were picked second in the preseason poll.
“Very rarely do you win at this level with young kids,” Lee said. “When you look at teams that have advanced at the NCAA Tournament, from the mid-major level, they’re usually old.”
If you tally things up, this is what Lee’s squad features: A combined 470 appearances and a combined 208 starts.
That’s the level of experience the Coyotes will rely on this season, which begins today (Friday) at a three-game classic in Hawaii.
Back for USD is a senior guard tandem of Triston Simpson (14 ppg, 3.7 rpg, 3.6 apg) and Tyler Peterson (11.4 ppg, 5 rpg), who have played alongside each other their entire careers. Senior guard Cody Kelley (9.3 ppg, 3.5 rpg, 3.2 apg) is back for his second season, while junior guard Stanley Umude (14.4 ppg, 5.5 rpg) was tabbed the preseason Player of the Year in the Summit League.
What really sparks that title talk is the return of another player, however.
Senior forward Tyler Hagedorn sat out all of last season with a foot injury, but was an all-league selection two seasons ago when he averaged 13 points and 5.9 rebounds.
Lee said he believes the Coyotes would have won 8-10 of the 11 games they lost by seven points or less last season had Hagedorn been on the floor.
“I’ve noticed with redshirts, that it’s one of the biggest years in a lot of guys’ college basketball careers,” Hagedorn said. “It’s one of the years when the guys make the biggest improvements.”
With all of those factors added together, the question becomes: Does USD have the group in place to make a run at a Summit League title?
“I really think we’ve got the experience and we’ve got the talent, and that’s definitely our number one goal for the season,” Simpson said.
That kind of experience — including a handful of players who were key contributors on the 2018 squad that reached the finals of the Summit League tournament — also means the Coyotes can avoid the learning curve they had last season.
“We can have a player-led program,” Lee said.
That wasn’t the case last season.
Not only were the players getting to know a new coaching staff, and vice versa, USD had to deal with a handful of injuries — there were games where the Coyotes had 6-7 healthy bodies. It was all a learning process, according to Lee.”
“We are refining things now as opposed to teaching,” he added. “That’s very important.”
As Hagedorn even said, the Coyotes are already ahead of last season’s pace.
And now they’ll rely on that experience to lead the way on a run toward a Summit League tournament championship.
“Great teams are led by the players,” Lee said. “You’ve got to have your players leading the program, and this year we have the opportunity.”
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