In the opener, the Redhawks women, with Dexter freshman Rachel Blunt playing like a seasoned veteran, routed Division II Southern Illinois-
In the nightcap, the Redhawks men, with Portageville's Roy Booker making his Southeast debut, outlasted Division II University of Missouri-St. Louis, which featured Richland's Sherome Cole and New Madrid County Central's Derrell Minner. Southeast won 89-76.
"I'm very pleased with her," said Redhawks coach B.J. Smith. "I thought she came out and handled the opening-game jitters, her first Division I basketball game, very well. She got into the game early and I thought she got very comfortable, very quickly."
Blunt, the Standard Democrat Girls Player of the Year last season, was one of five Redhawks in double figures, led by all-conference center Tatiana Conceicao with 22 points. Blunt played 20 minutes with only one turnover at power forward.
Said Smith, "I think she'll play a major part in what we do. There'll be some nights that she'll play 25 minutes, some nights maybe 15, but she'll be a major part of this team this year and that's pretty good because we've got an awfully good team. She's not coming into a situation where we're rebuilding or starting over. She's come on to a good team and earned a spot."
Crediting her familiarity with the Southeast program through summer camps as a prep player, Blunt said, "I knew coming in that I had a good idea what it would be like because I'd been around for a couple of years and I knew exactly what he (Southeast coach Smith) expected so that gave me an advantage in the summer (workouts). I knew what I had to do, I knew what I had to do to my body to get in shape for this."
Smith, who denied any thought of redshirting Blunt, said, "When we were recruiting her, we had a lot of people say she was going to be a project, but I told people all along that I thought she was going to play right away for us because she fits so well with how we play. She can step outside, she can go inside some and also her work ethic--I don't know that I've ever had a player that works as hard as her. She has a phenomenal work ethic and what she lacks in talent, she makes up for with work."
On her transition to the college game, Blunt said, "I realized that playing the four (power forward), I'd have to guard girls that were a lot bigger than me and the game's a lot more physical underneath the basket. Watching the game, you don't understand that. Then when you get out there and try to have to push those girls out, it's a lot harder on your body and you really have to do it the right way, not just use brute physical ability.
"The game's a lot quicker. I actually love it because we play an up-tempo style, but you've got to be in a lot better shape. (Based on) tonight, we've still got to get in better shape because there were times when we were kind of dragging out there."
When asked what her biggest area of improvement had been, without hesitation Blunt replied, defense.
"It's still not where it needs to be," she said, "but we work on that every single day and I'm starting to get to where I can spell it. And my shooting is a lot more accurate now than it was in high school."
After months of preparation, Blunt was thrilled to get the season started.
"I was just excited to get out on the court," she said. "People don't realize how long we spend in the summer up here and then, when it finally gets season-time, everybody is psyched up. You want to see how much better you've gotten and compare yourself to other people."
Roy Booker has traveled a circuitous route to get back to Southeast Missouri.
The former Portageville star played at Allen County Community College in Kansas for two seasons, where he was named the country's top JUCO guard by several publications, before moving on to the University of Montana for the 2003-04 season.
Splitting time between the point and shooting guard positions, Booker averaged 9.3 ppg for the Grizzlies.
Upon transferring to Southeast, Booker was forced by NCAA rules, to sit out the 2004-05 season, but he appears ready to accept a major role for this Redhawks team.
"I like the fit here," said Booker. "The coaching staff is great; everything is good. While I was in Montana, on the other side of the United States, none of my family and friends could see me, so this is much better."
Booker showed his promise with 18 points in his Southeast opener, despite 5-of-17 shooting from the field.
"I think he was really anxious," said Southeast coach Gary Garner. "He's been out a year and I think he was pressing, which we expected, and that affected his shooting.
"I thought he played extremely hard and he's a great team player. He can be a leader for us. He's got all the qualities. On the floor, he's just a very talented offensive basketball player."
Garner said his Redhawks were a bit ragged in the opener.
"We've got nine new players," he said. "Even with experienced players, it can be ragged this time of the year. I don't want to expect too much, too early, but if we have patience and can keep working extremely hard in practice like we have been, this team is really going to get better."
On his first game in the red and black, Booker said, "We came out real sluggish. I think it's going to take a couple of more weeks for us to get where we want to be. I felt a little rusty. I haven't played in more than a year and we've got a lot of new faces, so it's going to take some getting used to.
"But, overall, I liked the way it (first game) went--the atmosphere and the team. I've got good teammates. I'm just going to work hard and try to win us a conference championship and get to the tournament."
Another newcomer Ketshner Guerrier, a 6-7 senior transfer forward/center, who pulled down a team-high 11 rebounds and dropped 15 points, also drew praise from Garner.
He said, "If Ketsh can come on and rebound well, that's going to be a big plus for us."
Junior swingman Terrick Willoughby, a returning starter, led Redhawk scoring with 24 points.
Cole, a scoring machine at Richland during his prep career, begins his senior season at UMSL, along with former NMCC standout Minner.
The 5-9 Cole was the third leading scorer on last year's team at 7.3 ppg and will be expected to provide scoring and floor leadership for the Rivermen. "This is definitely the best team I've been on since I've been at UMSL," said Cole. "We're more athletic and we've got more guys who can shoot it.
"My role is a little bit of both, scoring and playmaking. He (coach Chris Pilz) likes to use me at both the one (point) and two (shooting guard) because of my ability to score. We've got an all-conference shooting guard (Jonathan Griffin) on our team, so I look to set him up, but if it breaks down I've got the green light to do what I want."
On playing near his hometown Sikeston, Cole said, "There were a lot of people out here in the crowd. It was exciting. I hadn't played down here since I graduated so it was nice to see my mom and some of my best friends out here. It was a good feeling."
Cole, who scored nine points in the game, said his goal at the moment is getting his degree.
"I want to get into the coaching ranks," he said.
The 6-7 Minner, a member of two state championship teams at NMCC, is also entering his final collegiate campaign, having begun his career at Three Rivers Community College.
The Rivermen's second leading rebounder last season, Minner led UMSL with 10 rebounds and scored seven against Southeast.
"We didn't get it done today," he said, "but I felt like we could have. We got our little bugs here and there that we need to work on and we're still getting used to playing with each other. We've got a lot of new kids that just came in."
Also working on acquiring his degree, Minner said he plans to pursue a playing career overseas after graduation.
But for now, he said, "I'm still hooping. I hope some of the hometown people can come out to see us."