Corey Hendren, 22, has become no stranger to the media spotlight during his first season as head coach of the USC Salkehatchie men’s basketball team.
ABC News 4 in Charleston first featured Hendren and the Indians on its 6 p.m. sportscast back in December, and Ron Morris stepped away from his infamously divisive Gamecock football column last week to tell Hendren’s story for The State Newspaper in Columbia.
“I’m happy we’re starting to get people excited and talking about Salk basketball,” said Hendren, believed to be the youngest college head coach in America. “I couldn’t care less about all the attention they’re paying me, as long as we’re continuing to build this program.
“Our goal is to have these kids reach their potential and help them become men. Right now, I’m most proud of the fact that we had the highest team GPA in program history. We’re improving in a lot of areas, and it’s making my job fun.”
While he says he hasn’t minded all the fuss, the Lexington native is hoping that the equally youthful Indians will play well enough to deservedly shift attention away from him on the sidelines and instead onto themselves out on the court during the next five weeks. Doing that will depend on solving some lingering issues.
The Indians, who have eight games left to play in the regular season, all crucially important matchups with NJCAA Region X opponents, are currently 12-10 overall. They fell to 1-1 in Region X play with a loss to Bamberg-county rival Denmark Tech, 106-95, following a 90-73 win over Brunswick (NC) Community College in both teams’ region opener last week.
Hendren says the proverbial “slow start” is the one of the main reasons for the Indians being 12-10 right now instead of sporting a better record, something they seemed destined for after starting the year 6-0.
The Indians have trailed at halftime in 14 of their 22 games, including nine of their 10 losses. Salk’s average halftime deficit in those nine games has been 10.7 points. Their average margin of defeat in those same nine games? 11 points, showing just how great an effect that unhelpful trend is having.
“If we ever play a full 40 minutes, we could be a really good team,” Hendren said. “I keep telling our guys that our mental focus has to be there from time you step into the gym until the buzzer goes off at the end of the night, and we’re not seeing that enough right now. We’ve got to take our execution to the next level.”
Beyond their struggling to get into a groove early in games, Hendren says the only consistent problem about the Indians have had through their first 22 games has been inconsistency.
Salk hasn’t especially dazzled or struggled in any particular statistical category this season that would allow Hendren to easily point out anything as the sure-fire scapegoat for losses or go-to recipe for victories.
The Indians’ team free throw percentage is actually higher in losses (68) than in wins (67), and they average more turnovers in wins (11) than in losses (10). Differences in rebounds (31-30), assists (8-7) and fouls (19-19) are negligible. Defensively, they average both two more blocks (4-2) and steals (10-8) in wins vs. losses.
The most appreciable differences in their performances can be seen in shooting statistics, but even those aren’t much. The Indians shoot about 5 percent better from both the floor and 3-point range in wins as they do losses (45-40, 32-27), and score nine points more per game in wins over losses.
Overall, Salk is averaging 80.5 points per game, and is giving up 79.5. Nygel Gates has been the heartbeat of the offense at gaurd, averaging 18.1 points per game, along with Carlos Rankins, who is averaging 14.9 a game. Scoring is not a problem for the Indians, but in order for the team to hit its stride down the stretch, Hendren says his post players are going to have to step up their game.
“For us to be successful, we’ve got to get our guys in the paint — Scott Hollins and Terrance Jenkins, and Christian Kalacanic off the bench — to be big factors,” Hendren said. “They’re going to be difference makers. All teams in the region have good guards, but most do not have good post players. We’ve got to get them going early and give them some looks, because that’s going to open up so much not only for them, but also our guards.”
Another factor, Hendren says will be improved defense, helping to widen that current average one-point gap between the Indians and their opponents at the end of games.
“We’ve gotta win games with our defense,” Hendren said. “We have a better chance to win if the game is in 70s, and we can keep opposing offenses down playing our game. The higher the score gets and the more we have to press and get out and run with these other teams, the more it’s s toss up. If we can stay focused defensively going down the stretch, we can make things much easier on ourselves.”
Two games into region play, Hendren thinks it’s still anybody’s title to claim, including Salkehatchie’s.
“We’ve got the players to do it,” Hendren said, noting however that he still expects perennial contenders Spartanburg Methodist and Cape Fear Community College to be the teams to beat in the long run.
“In our region, it’s so tough and so even, you can lose to anyone or beat anybody. I know if we play well, we can beat anybody, and I feel like we’re starting to turn the corner here late in the year, and poised to make a run. I like our chances if we can get these guys all on the some page coming down the stretch.”
The Indians will play Friday at home against Cape Fear. Tipoff is at 7 p.m.
By DREW TRIPP firstname.lastname@example.org
Press and Standard