The rebuild officially begins tonight.
The University of Arkansas at Little Rock's men's basketball team and first-year coach Darrell Walker will meet Southeastern Oklahoma State at 6:30 p.m. in the Jack Stephens Center. It is the beginning of a new era at UALR and is the onset of a season expected to be bumpy at times as the Trojans, who were picked to finish last in the Sun Belt Conference preseason poll and have no seniors.
Walker, a 10-year NBA veteran who coached professionally for 20 years, is a longtime Little Rock resident. He has had seven months to work on UALR's program-wide revival from a disappointing 7-25 season in 2017-18.
"You never know what's going to happen when the lights come on and the popcorn is popping," Walker said. "There's still a lot to be learned about my team and ourselves."
With him, Walker brought six newcomers. UALR's probable starting lineup has redshirt junior guard Rayjon Tucker, two sophomores (6-8 forward Kris Bankston and guard Jaizec Lottie) and two freshmen (6-10 forward Nikola Maric and guard Markquis Nowell).
Lottie and Bankston are the only projected starters who have previously appeared in a game for the Trojans.
"That group has gelled pretty good," Walker said. "They've got a good feel for each other. I like the way the group has groomed themselves so far. There's still going to be a learning curve ... We're a young basketball team. I'm sure we'll be having some ups and downs. But my thing is not to get too high and not to get too low."
UALR's season opener will be the first meeting between the Trojans and Southeastern Oklahoma State. The Savage Storm have three returners -- junior forward Kevin Buckingham, junior guard Jett Jobe and senior guard A'Torey Everett -- who averaged more than 11 points per game in 2017-18.
The Trojans are very familiar with the Great American Conference. In last year's season opener, Ouachita Baptist defeated UALR 81-79, the Trojans' first loss in the past nine games against GAC opponents.
Thursday will give the Trojans an opportunity to gauge the first seven months of Walker's tenure. It is the first of many building blocks needed to enliven the program following a troubling 2017-18.
"You look for to see if your team is doing all the things that you've worked on over the summer and during practice time," Walker said. "Are they doing what they're supposed to be doing offensively and defensively? Those are the things that I will be looking at very closely.
"It's time for us to start playing."
SE OKLAHOMA STATE AT UALR MEN
WHEN 6:30 p.m.
WHERE Jack Stephens Center, Little Rock
Sports on 11/08/2018
Print Headline: Walker officially begins UALR era