Jay Spoonhour figures he fits right in with his team. “We have a lot of guys who are really excited, a lot of guys who don’t know what’s going on, which is a little like the situation I’m in,” said Spoonhour at the Ohio Valley Conference media day last month. “So, we fit together really well.” At least his sense of humor is intact.
A new era in Eastern Illinois University basketball begins tonight (Friday) in Peoria, when Spoonhour, only the third head coach in EIU’s 31 years at the NCAA Division I level, puts one of the youngest teams in college basketball on the court at Bradley. No starters are back from last year’s 12-17 team. Of the top seven returning players, the Panthers have a combined total of only 15 starts. Spoonhour, who coached Wabash Valley College to the NJCAA national championship in 2001, was the head coach at Moberly, Mo. when EIU hired him in April. He has only 10 games as a head coach at the Division I level, as an interim head coach at UNLV in 2004, but has served as an assistant at Missouri, St. Louis, Central Missouri, and Texas-San Antonio. EIU is coming off a 87-34 exhibition win over Trinity International. Bradley (7-25 last year) won two exhibition games, and will carry a 19-game home-opener winning streak into the game. The Panthers have two starters with Olney Central College backgrounds. Austin Akers, a 6-foot-2 senior guard from Brazil, Ind., had nine assists in the exhibition win. Keenan Anderson, a 6-foot-7 sophomore from Marion, Ark., transferred after his freshman season at Olney. He scored seven points against Trinity. Eastern’s home opener is on Tuesday at 7 p.m. against Wright State “Our main goal this year is to get to the conference tournament,” Spoonhour said. “We haven’t made the conference tournament consistently over the last few years.”