A lockdown defense and a well-rounded star will again have the Salukis in the hunt in March
Not long after accepting a scholarship to Southern Illinois in 2002, forward Randal Falker, then a senior at St. Louis's Gateway Tech, posed an odd question to his future coaches: "Why did you recruit me?"
Says Salukis coach Chris Lowery, who was then an assistant, "He didn't think he was any good."
Falker explains, "I just didn't have confidence in my game. I felt like I never improved that much in high school and I didn't reach the pinnacle I should have."
These days, however, even Falker is convinced he's worthy of a roster spot. The 6' 7", 230-pound power forward was first-team All-Missouri Valley Conference and the league's defensive player of the year last season. He led the Salukis in rebounding (7.7 per game) and blocks (2.1) and was second in scoring (12.3).
A well-rounded personality off the court, Falker sang tenor in his high school choir and loves whitewater rafting, jet skiing and mountain biking. He is majoring in communication design and minoring in marketing and art history. "He's unique; that's all I can say," Lowery says. "Sometimes a blue-chip player will think about the NBA, but we don't know whether Randal's thinking about artwork or riding bikes or basketball."
Hoops was foremost over the summer. Knowing the Salukis will need more scoring following the graduation of guards Jamaal Tatum (the team's top scorer at 15.2 points a game) and Tony Young, Falker overhauled his shooting technique and improved the range on his jump shot. And in July he held his own against some of the country's biggest names at the trials for the Pan Am Games team. Though he didn't make the squad, his showing gave him an extra shot of confidence for his final season.
As the Salukis seek their seventh straight NCAA tournament bid, the hallmark of these dogs will once again have to be their defensive bite. (In 2006-07 Southern Illinois ranked third nationally in scoring defense, at 56.2 points per game.) To encourage a rabid half-court pressure defense, Lowery occasionally scrimmages with no out-of-bounds lines. It's a perfect fit for Falker, who refuses to be put in a box. -- Ted Keith
Issue date: November 19, 2007