By Jeff Goodman
Mississippi Valley State coach Sean Woods won’t enter the season with the goal of winning 20 games despite the fact that he’s got a team that may be favored to win the SWAC.
It’s easy to see why.
Just look at the schedule: at North Carolina, at Florida, at Wisconsin, at Notre Dame, at South Carolina, at Arkansas, at Northwestern, at Iowa State, at Ole Miss, at DePaul. That doesn’t even include a tournament out in Las Vegas.
Woods, the former Kentucky star, won’t play at home until conference play.
But wins are actually secondary for Woods and the Delta Devils men’s basketball program.
Earning paychecks as the sacrificial lambs to the big boys.
``That’s the major necessity for us,” Woods said. ``We’ve got to play buy games to keep the athletic department and my program afloat.”
By his count, he’ll earn $778,000 for the 10 guarantee games he’s signed up for this season.
His first season at Mississippi Valley State he pulled $513,000. The next year it was just shy of $600,000, then $680,000 a year ago.
The men’s basketball program receives about 40 percent and uses it for everything from travel expenses to scholarships.
This is a program that was forced to practice in a middle school last season and play its first two league games at a neutral site due to a decayed floor.
When Woods got the job in July of 2008, he inherited a program that had just three players on the roster – and none of them averaged more than four points per game.
He won seven games in his first season, nine his second year and 13 last season. The goal this year is to win 16 or 17 and earn a SWAC championship.
Leading scorer D’Angelo Jackson is gone, but just about everyone else is back (eight seniors) from a team that tied for second in the league a year ago – and Woods expects Terrence Joyner to step in and fill Jackson’s role.
``I think we have a chance to be really good this year,” Woods said.
But the key is whether he can keep his team’s spirits up after the brutal non-conference slate.
``We try and use it as a positive in recruiting,” Woods said. ``These kids get a chance to play in big-time environments against the best teams in the country – and they can play a lot of minutes here.”
But the wear and tear, making sure the players’ confidence isn’t in shambles prior to SWAC play and academics are all a challenge.
``We’ve got study hall on the road, assistants help out with the academics,” Woods said. ``It’s tough.”