In less than a month, the Northwestern State men’s basketball team will have its first chance to show what a nearly clean slate can do.
The Demons open their season Nov. 6 against Dallas Christian inside Prather Coliseum, but at Tuesday’s Southland Conference Basketball Media Day the focus was on the Demons’ 2023-24 season as a whole.
Northwestern State will do so with no returning scholarship players and only one returning letterman – sophomore guard Karlin Hardy. With all the moving parts, including first-year head coach Rick Cabrera, the Demons were chosen fifth in the Southland Conference preseason poll, voted on by league coaches and sports information directors.
“In our minds, preseason polls don’t mean anything,” Cabrera said. “I’ve been in a league where we were picked last and finished third. I’m honored my colleagues thought of us that way. This is an opportunity to motivate us to practice hard and win the league.”
Senior forward Justin Wilson, a South Carolina State transfer, echoed Cabrera’s comments regarding outside predictions for the new-look Demons and saying he expects more than a fifth-place finish.
“I believe in my teammates, and I believe in that man (Cabrera) up there,” Wilson said on the ESPN+ broadcast of the event. “The coaching staff comes in with pop every day. I mean they come in with energy. They love this game, and I love this game, too.”
Northwestern State opens Cabrera’s first season at home Nov. 6 against Dallas Christian. Also included in the Demons’ non-conference schedule are trips to Baylor (Dec. 2), Boise State (Dec. 12) and LSU (Dec. 29) along with home games against Stephen F. Austin (Nov. 13) and Rice (Dec. 16).
NSU opens Southland Conference play Jan. 6 at Lamar and hosts McNeese in its SLC home opener two days later.
“We want to win every single game on our schedule,” Cabrera said. “The end goal is to prepare for Southland Conference play. Our non-conference schedule will allow us to do that. We’re going to face some tough competition. Come January, it’s time to rock and roll in order to celebrate in March.”
And that hope comes in the form of a newly constructed roster that mirrors what Cabrera often did in his tenure as the head coach at Lackawanna College and Tallahassee Community College – reload on the fly.
“This is the lay of the land in college basketball,” he said. “My staff and I, we vetted the process on the guys we brought in, made sure they were high-character young men. It is unusual to have 13 new scholarship players, but the staff did a great job in the two and a half months we had to recruit. They are what we call ‘everyday dudes.’ They come to work every day, work hard and are coachable. They’re talented on top of that. We are very excited with where we are now.”