Hopes are high in Hattiesburg as the Southern Miss men’s basketball team will tip off a new season in less than a week.
Coming off a successful 2022-2023 campaign in which the Golden Eagles earned the feat of most-improved basketball team in NCAA history, the squad will look to carry that momentum into the upcoming season set to begin on Nov. 6 against William Carey University.
Austin Crowley, the Sun Belt’s preseason player of the year, explained during a recent episode of the SuperTalk Eagle Hour that the team’s goal of winning has never changed. However, last year’s success has given the Golden Eagles a newfound belief that they can compete at the highest level.
“I don’t think our mindset has changed any. I just think our perspective of what we can do has changed,” Crowley said. “We know we can go far into March Madness. We’ve seen other teams do it — other mid-majors do it — so we know that we can do it as well.”
Southern Miss will have somewhat of a new identity after having to replace three starters Felipe Haase, DeAndre Pinckney, and Denijay Harris.
Head coach Jay Ladner took to the transfer portal to add seven-foot center Tegra Izay, Victor Iwuakor, and Andre Curbelo to complement returning veterans Crowley, Mo Arnold, and Neftali Alvarez. Crowley, a West Point native, averaged 16.0 points, 4.1 rebounds, and 2.6 assists per game last season and is expected to be the face of the team going forward.
The Golden Eagles have also branded themselves as “La Familia,” a motto coined by assistant coach Juan Cardona to describe the tightness of the unit. With multiple players on the team coming from backgrounds in which English was not the primary language, Cardona emphasized the importance of the team speaking one common tongue — basketball.
“Just understanding how to get everybody on the universal language, that’s what coach Juan does exceptionally. He understands that no matter what language you speak, as long as you speak basketball, you can play here. As long as you give effort, you can play here,” Crowley continued. “It’s not really a hard task because we have really good, high-IQ guys who understand and can get to the concept very quickly.”
Last year, Southern Miss won the school’s first Sun Belt regular-season championship with a 25-8 overall record, which was a huge improvement from 7-26 the previous season. The Golden Eagles also achieved a perfect 15-0 record at home during the 2022-23 campaign before falling in the National Invitation Tournament against UAB.
Preseason operations are underway at Southern Miss with two exhibition games already played, one being a 101-65 win over Delta State and the other resulting in a 60-54 loss to Mississippi State in a charity match.
The Golden Eagles, who are No. 4 in the Sun Belt Conference’s preseason rankings, will strive to make an appearance in the NCAA Tournament for the first time in over a decade.