HATTIESBURG – Southern Miss men’s basketball head coach Jay Ladner spent the offseason giving a forthright pitch.
At 7-26, the Golden Eagles hadn’t put together a good season in 2021-22. Five of their top six scorers had departed via the transfer portal after the season. Acknowledging those facts during discussions with potential additions, Ladner sold them on opportunity.
Eight incoming transfers were willing to buy. The Golden Eagles completed an extensive rebuild over the span of just a few months, retaining only five scholarship players from last season’s roster.
“We need to win,” Ladner said. “My boss hasn’t told me that. We can make all the excuses in the world, I’m not into excuses. We’re going into our fourth season and we’re coming off two pretty rough seasons. The first year was what it was, we got in here late. The last two years have been tough in terms of win-loss record, and that’s not acceptable. ”
The headline addition for Ladner this offseason is Mercer transfer Felipe Haase. Listed at 6-foot-9, Haase scored 14.8 points per game last season and shot 40.6 percent from 3-point range.
He arrived at Southern Miss thanks to his relationship with new assistant coach Juan Cardona, who also arrived from Mercer.
“Really, really shoots it at a high level,” Ladner said. “To have a [6-foot-9] guy who has the ability to stretch the defense at his size is just a weapon that we haven’t had. ”
Guard Neftali Alvarez is another addition from Mercer. He posted 12.6 points per game and averaged 3.4 assists last season, and was a third-team All-Southern Conference selection the year before that.
Ladner also added Nick Williams to his staff this offseason, and he helped the Golden Eagles land Ole Miss transfer guard Austin Crowley. Once a four-star prospect, Crowley started 11 games for the Rebels last season and contributed just under five points per game.
“We just kind of got lucky,” Ladner said. “I’d say, it’s a combination of luck and maybe some strategic luck in the fact that they had relationships with guys in the portal.”
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Donovan Ivory, a 6-foot-6 double-figure scorer from Green Bay, is joining the fold, too. Six-foot-eight FIU addition Victor Hart will provide some important size. Guard Cobie Montgomery has joined the Golden Eagles from the junior college ranks, while guards Nico Aguirre and Marcelo Perez will make the step up from Division II.
Ladner made it clear that he doesn’t care for the new college basketball landscape created by the one-time transfer rule. He would prefer to build his program with a foundation of high school prospects.
But, adjusting to the new circumstances, the Golden Eagles have made scouting Division I transfers their first priority, Ladner said.
“I’m not saying we don’t recruit high school players, but it has to be a special situation,” he said. “If we recruit a high school player, and they come in and do really, really well, whether they’re in the portal or not, they’re getting recruited. That’s a reality. It’s a sad reality, but it’s a reality, and we have to accept that. ”
The Golden Eagles lost top scorer and leading rebounder Tyler Stevenson to the portal after he elected to move onto UIC. A handful of other key contributors departed, too.
Among the seven outgoings, Ladner said there were some contributors who he’d like to have back and others who likely needed a fresh start as the Golden Eagles sought to change things up following a 1-17 showing in Conference USA play.
Scouring the portal to fill out his roster, Ladner prioritized experience. Each player he brought in has at least two seasons of college basketball under his belt. The 2022-23 roster will not feature a single freshman.
“There would be times we were warming up, and I’d look at our team and I’d look down there at the other team and think, ‘Gosh, they’re men,’ and we just had a bunch of young- looking guys for the most part, “Ladner said. “We’re coming off of a tough season that was unacceptable and I think part of us getting old was to give us some more experience, and let’s see if we can get this thing turned around.”
Reach Southern Miss writer David Eckert at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @ davideckert98.