MACOMB – With a completely new coaching staff and a roster overhaul that has seen the program add 13 new faces, no one can blame Summit League teams and fans wondering, ‘who are these guys?’ when it comes to Western Illinois men’s basketball this season.
After six seasons, the Leathernecks parted with head coach Billy Wright, leading to a mass exodus of players from the program.
In response, WIU hired Minnesota assistant Rob Jeter, who along with his staff, went to work, bringing in 13 new faces to the 15-man Leatherneck squad.
With so much newness, Jeter understands if people are having trouble trying to identify his team.
“Hopefully we’re a team that represents what basketball is all about,” the coach said. “We want to play up-tempo, we want to be a tough, disciplined group, we want to have a group that looks like they’re having fun and enjoying the moment, so hopefully that’s what people see.”
COVID-19 restrictions in the state of Illinois, the city of Macomb and on the campus of Western Illinois University put the new program behind schedule, as players and coaches have only been together as a full squad for two weeks.
Despite playing catch-up, Jeter likes what he sees and hopes his team can provide some juice to a program that has been at or near the bottom of the Summit League standings for some time.
“Right now, it’s not quite there yet, but the expectations for this group are higher than normal, so for me as a coach, I have to figure out a way to protect them but also get them ready so they can meet those expectations,” he said. “Hopefully they represent Leatherneck basketball, we’re a disciplined group, we have fun, we’re good to each other and they are getting there but it’s always a process.”
Jeter may have high expectations for his group, but with so many new faces and recent struggles, the new-look Leathernecks will have to fight to earn respect around the league.
In the Summit League preseason poll, the Leathernecks were picked ninth out of nine teams.
Jeter understands why his squad was projected last, but that does not mean the coach will not make sure his players know what people think of them whenever they hit the floor.
“No one wants to be last, no one wants to be looked upon as the worst team, so for us we have to use that motivation, we have to use that as ‘this is how people see us,’ he said. “Do we have to be that, no, do we have to work really hard to move the needle and program, yes, because that’s who we’ve been, so we have to use it as motivation.”