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SLU’s Ford Is Cautious, but Believes Billikens Are Capable of a Special Season

It’s fairly well known by now your Saint Louis University Billikens got some generous preseason predictions, with Atlantic-10 media and coaches forecasting a conference win in Travis Ford’s third year on the job.

But the thing about preseason college hoops predictions is: Most don’t mean diddly-poo, which is a fact not lost on Ford. He’d rather concern himself with his team’s improving day-by-day, game-by-game, leading to an established presence for when January’s A-10 schedule pops up.

“It’s something that we’ve had to talk to our team a lot about to make sure they understand that rankings mean nothing this time of year,” he recently told 101 ESPN. “We have done nothing to earn that. Hopefully, by the end of the year we will be talked about as one of the best teams in the A-10.

“But right now, we’ve got one thing on our mind and that’s to figure out how to compete with SEMO tonight and to try and get better each and every day.”

During his recent visit with ‘The Bernie Miklasz Show,’ Ford seemed genuinely cautious regarding the Bills’ Tuesday opener with Southeast Missouri State, a clear sign he doesn’t want his squad getting big-head disease after an exceptional preseason ranking. Having said that, Ford also believes this group — with last season’s top scorers Javon Bess and Jordan Goodwin among four returning players — is capable of something special if they put in the work.

“We have a chance to be a really good team. We’re not there now, though. I’ve been doing this long enough I know where we’re at,” Ford said. “We may take some lumps along the way here early, and maybe not. You don’t know. If we continue to build and grow as a team…because we’re trying to interact so many new guys, then yes, we’re going to have a shot to hopefully do something special.”

“But on the other hand, can we be like one of those teams like Loyola? Or the VCU of a couple years ago? Or the Wichita State’s or the Butler’s that have made the Final Four’s and had just unbelievable seasons? Sure we could.”

‘Good for us’

The Billikens’ non-conference schedule isn’t anything to sneeze at, with showdowns coming against Pitt, Butler, No. 17 Florida State, Seton Hall and Houston; a schedule Ford hopes will whip the Bills into shape for A-10 play.

“Well, I thought it was a good idea in the summer, but now I’m starting to wonder how smart I was with that schedule,” Ford said with a chuckle. “But I think it’s good for us. I really do. We need it. We may take some shots on the chin here every once in a while as we’re getting better, as our team is growing, but unfortunately a lot of times you learn more through adversity than you do if you’re just winning every game.

“We need to learn about ourselves before A-10 play. That’s our goal right now. Yes, we need to win games; we need to keep our head above water right now and win as many games as we can, but hopefully by January, we (will) have really been tried and tested. We’ll know who we are and we can really, hopefully, make a run in the A-10. That’s the goal right now.”

You can read more from Coach Ford’s 101 ESPN chat below, followed by the entire segment’s audio.

Ford on making the greater St. Louis area an emphasis for recruiting:

“It’s been an emphasis for us. I’ve tried very hard to develop relationships with all the high school coaches and AAU coaches. It’s still an ongoing process, but we think there is great talent in the St. Louis area and a lot of great coaches developing this talent.

“We spend a lot of time identifying which young men can represent us and help us win an A-10 Championship; help us get to an NCAA Tournament. We want to try to keep the best players at home and Saint Louis University is home. We’re not just representing Saint Louis University, which is very important to us, but we’re also representing the City of St. Louis.

“I think that’s resonated with a lot of the young men in the area. I think they’re excited about where the program is headed. They want to help us build this into a consistent — hopefully – NCAA Tournament-type team, top-20 team eventually.”

More: Billikens Return to 101 ESPN Looking to Uphold the Hype With Size and Defense