It's been nearly nine months since meaningful basketball has been played inside Little Rock's Jack Stephens Center.
That drought will come to an end tonight as the University of Arkansas at Little Rock's men's and women's teams launch their respective 2021-22 seasons with a home doubleheader featuring the return of a familiar face and an opponent that's made back-to-back Sweet 16 appearances.
The Trojans men will get things started at 5 p.m. against Southern Illinois, which will Ben Coupet Jr., who transferred from UALR after last season. They'll be followed by the UALR women, which are set to host reigning Missouri Valley Conference champion Missouri State at 7:30 p.m.
For women's Coach Joe Foley, tonight is just the start of a nonconference gauntlet -- the Trojans visit Vanderbilt Friday, then play three at home before Thanksgiving, capped by a visit from Auburn. The UALR women will then meet three more SEC teams in December, with games at No. 23 Texas A&M and Arkansas before hosting Alabama.
Regardless of the results, Foley said he expects he'll quickly learn a lot about his team.
"This gives these young girls and new girls an opportunity to see what it's like to play on this level," Foley said. "For us, if we can just compete and have good minutes against a quality team, I think it'll help us understand how well we have to play to compete against a good team.
"Most teams don't get the opportunity to do that very often, and we're going to get to do it six, seven, eight times."
The same can't be said of the Trojan men's first few games. After this evening's matchup with the Salukis, UALR will host two non-Division I teams in Champion Christian and Arkansas Baptist before embarking on a six-game road swing.
Although the Trojans are still figuring out what they'll get from a group that returns just one of its top four scorers from last season -- Nikola Maric is the only UALR player who averaged double-figure points a year ago -- they certainly know one of guys who will be on the opposing bench tonight.
Coupet started all 26 games for the Trojans last season, averaging 10.3 points and shooting better than 37 percent on three-point attempts in 32 minutes per game.
"Southern Illinois is a very good team," men's Coach Darrell Walker said. "But I'm just focused on us. If we take care of the basketball, we'll be fine."