VALPARAISO | There will be a certain familiarity in the air at the Athletics-Recreation Center on Saturday night.
St. Louis will be in town for Valparaiso’s toughest non-conference game of the season and the Billikens will be bringing some familiar players along for the ride.
Valparaiso senior LaVonte Dority was high school teammates with St. Louis senior Mike McCall Jr. at Foreman (Chicago), while freshmen Lexus Williams and Royce Simpson were teammates at Marist. In addition, Jordan Coleman and SLU’s Austin McBroom both hail from North Hollywood, Calif.
On top of all that, Valparaiso sophomore Keith Carter began his college career at St. Louis last season before joining the Crusaders at semester break. Carter won’t play in Saturday’s game and isn’t eligible to take the court until Dec. 21.
Even with all the familiarity, Valparaiso coach Bryce Drew is still preparing for the game the old-fashioned way: lots of film.
“With the way technology is today, we have a lot of their film and we can scout them in that way,” Drew said. “I don’t think (Keith playing there) is as relevant today as it might have been several years ago in terms of preparing for the game.”
The two teams met in early December last season, just 24 hours after the death of St. Louis coach and college basketball icon Rick Majerus. The Crusaders shot just 32.6 percent (15-of-46) in one of their poorest offensive outputs of the season and fell 62-49. One year later, it’s the memory of playing in Chaifetz Arena just after Majerus passed that sticks with several Crusaders.
“It was definitely an emotional experience,” Valparaiso senior Bobby Capobianco said. “Having been recruited by Coach Majerus, I spent some time with him and it was very surreal.”
Drew commented last season that the Billikens played inspired and with “an extra pep in their step.” With a new cast of characters on both sides, the third-year Valparaiso coach is expecting a different kind of challenge on Saturday night.
“Our team is different, so I’m not sure that we can look back much on how things went last season,” Drew said.
The Billikens are 7-2 this season with their only losses being a pair of single-digit defeats to No. 10 Wisconsin and 2013 Final Four participant Wichita State. Each of SLU’s seven victories has been by double digits. Despite the enormity of the challenge, Capobianco and his teammates aren’t looking at this game any differently than they have any other game this season.
“You have to think about it as nothing more than the next game,” Capobianco said. “We know they are a talented team and it is the most important game for us right now, but that’s because it’s the next game on our schedule.”