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JUCO Hoops: Smithpeters, Vols keeping things local

  • John A. Logan players, clockwise, Pinckneyville's Dawson Yates, along with the Carterville trio of Justin Johnson, Eli Downen, Austin Garbe and Marion's Jackson Connor join a long line of local ballers that have attended JALC.

    John A. Logan players, clockwise, Pinckneyville's Dawson Yates, along with the Carterville trio of Justin Johnson, Eli Downen, Austin Garbe and Marion's Jackson Connor join a long line of local ballers that have attended JALC.
    SPYDER DANN | mdann@dailyregister.com

 
By Spyder Dann mdann@dailyregister.com
updated: 11/4/2021 3:43 PM

Kyle Smithpeters has been in their shoes.
It's not hyperbole and it's not even coach speak when the Harrisburg native and now John A. Logan men's basketball coach says he knows what it's like to be a high school basketball player looking for a place to play at the next level.
What really hits home is Smithpeters' college career path as he played for two seasons at Southeastern Illinois College under Todd Franklin, before going on to shine for SIU in two seasons.
Now, in his 10th year at the helm of the Volunteers basketball program, Smithpeters has made it a priority for the local hoop products.
After 212 career wins, Smithpeters looks back at more than a dozen local athletes that were there for three Region 24 titles and heading into this season, back-to-back trips to the NJCAA National Tournament in Hutchison Kansas.
This year, there is no shortage of local flavor as Smithpeters has sprinkled his roster with three players from Carterville in Justin Johnson, Austin Garbe and Eli Downen, along with Marion's Jackson Connor and Pinckneyville's Dawson Yates.
Yates averaged four points per game last season and started 22-of-25 games for a Vols team that went 18-5 and won the District 24 title. Connor, who graduated from Marion as the school's all-time leading scorer, averaged three points per game and both will be expected to be a major part of this year's Vols ballclub.
"We like people to be interested in our program," Smithpeters said. "We've had a lot of success and have been very fortunate. These kids in this area … I was in their shoes once as well and if I had not been given that opportunity I don't know where I would've ended up. These guys work so hard for us on a daily basis and they can play. They wouldn't be here if they couldn't play, but they do other things right as well."
The die-hard Volunteer fans will remember names like Carbondale's Devontavious Payne, an All-American at JALC, went on to play at East Tennessee State. Other guys like Du Quoin's Connor Wheeler went on to play at SIU-Edwardsville and is now the Director of Operations and Player Development at SIU. Other players like Herrin's Justin Lukens went on to play at Kentucky Wesleyan and is now involved in coaching as well, while Will Keller, from Agape, is playing at SIU.
Not many college programs have the local player on their radar, let alone try to recruit the number that Smithpeters does, even at a JUCO program like JALC, but for Smithpeters, it's about more than just satisfying a quota.
"With any roster the big thing is always fit and feel," Smithpeters said. "We've really tried to embrace guys that have come in with the right mentality and that it's very important to incorporate our local guys for a lot of reasons. I think it's very important for the guys that are not from this area to have that type of camaraderie with our local players and for our local players to get outside ideas and not be in a bubble.
"We've been very fortunate to be blessed with good players, but now we're at a point too where our reputation from a local perspective is we have a lot of the really good kids from this area wanting to come here and play."

Spyder Dann covers prep and college sports for the Southern Illinois LOCAL Media Group. Follow him on Twitter: @spydieshooter.