Expectations high for both Lamar women’s, men’s basketball teams
Lamar women’s basketball coach Robin Harmony would have taken anything less than a preseason No. 1 pick in the Southland Conference as an insult.
Harmony, now entering her fifth season as coach of the Cardinals, is confident in what she has built at Lamar, and she doesn’t care who knows it.
“A lot of coaches want to go into the season quietly,” Harmony said.
“Well, there’s nothing to be quiet about anymore for us. Teams already know that we have talent, we’re deep, we’re athletic and we compete.”
We want to set the bar high, this is our standard now. Everyone else has to catch us.”
Tic Price’s standards are just as high, something that wasn’t the case when he took over Lamar’s men’s program in 2014. The Cardinal men are picked to finish second in the conference this season, but Price isn’t nearly satisfied.
“Who wants to be No. 2?,” Price said. “There’s only one place as far as I’m concerned, and that’s first place. If somebody’s happy about being second, then that’s probably where they’re going to end up.”
With expectations as high as ever for Lamar basketball, the men’s and women’s teams are each embracing the challenge. After a disappointing end to a successful season last year, the women have unfinished business as they try to take the next step toward a Southland championship. On the men’s side, Lamar looks to return to the annual powerhouse it once was in the conference and earn and championship in the process.
The high expectations placed on the Lamar women stem from steady improvement since Harmony took over. The Cardinals added to their win total from the previous year during three of the past four seasons. A 15-3 mark in the Southland a year ago led to the top preseason pick.
“I think we’ve had the best four years of women’s basketball in this program’s history,” Harmony said. “We’re trying to build something here, and winning is the only way you do that.”
Lamar once before was the preseason pick to win the Southland under Harmony, in the 2014-15. Senior guard Baileigh O’Dell was on the team that season. She said after losing in the conference semifinals last year, there’s something different about this group.
“It’s not the first time we’ve been picked first since I’ve been here, but it’s the first time I think that we could really do something with it,” O’Dell said. “I think everyone here realizes what’s at stake.”
The men’s expectations follow Lamar’s best season under Price. The Cardinals’ winning record in the Southland last year (10-8) was its first with Price on the sideline. He said the program needed a change in mentality.
“I wanted a culture change when I took over,” Price said.
“Lamar has always been a major player in the conference, but somehow we lost that along the way. When I first took over, the first step was, let’s stop focusing on a losers’ mentality and step into the winners’ circle.”
Price said he changed the culture of the program by recruiting players who fit his fast-paced system. He brought in players like seniors Joey Frenchwood and Colton Weisbrod, who helped lead the turnaround. Last season was Lamar’s first with a team full of players recruited by Price.
“The old saying is, if you can’t get your players better, get better players,” Price said. “So that was a major focus of mine. Recruiting was very important for us to start making the next step.”
Weisbrod, who was named First-Team All-Conference in the Southland at forward last season, said he wants to be part of returning Lamar men’s basketball to prominence.
“You can see we’re already taking steps in that direction,” Weisbrod said. “We want to do something special, and it’s awesome to be a part of that. I think people are starting to take notice of what we’re trying to do here.”
Recruiting also played a major role in the women’s ascension. This season, the Cardinals brought in top talent, including freshman Jadyn Pimentel. Junior transfer Moe Kinard, the team’s leading scorer last year, was recruited by Harmony after she chose to transfer from Houston.
“People ask me ‘How do you get these kids?,’” Harmony said. “We outwork everyone, it’s pretty simple really.”
The men’s and the women’s teams each return multiple starters from a year ago. On the men’s side, four starters are back. Yet Price said there’s still plenty to be determined in the lineup.
“We’re not exactly the veteran team that everyone thinks we are,” Price said.
“We’re still trying to figure out what guys have separated themselves to get playing time.
The Cardinal women return all five starters from last season, and freshman like Pimentel, Lola Bracy, McKenzie Alton and Rikiah Cowart give Lamar some much-needed depth, Harmony said.
“That’s the biggest thing for us this year,” Harmony said. “We have serious depth that gives us options now. We didn’t have that in the last four years I’ve been here.”
The women start their season against power-five competition in the non-conference portion of their schedule.
The Lady Cardinals open the year on Friday at Baylor. Two games later, they play Purdue on the road.
“Those games will be measuring sticks for us, no doubt,” Harmony said. “But everything we do is getting us ready for Southland play.”
The men’s non-conference schedule lacks the big names but is still challenging. Lamar starts the season Friday against Tulsa and follows with UTEP, Coastal Carolina and Duquesne in non-conference play.
While Price doesn’t want to overlook any opponent, he’s thinking big as the new season nears.
“We want to build a dynasty here where every year, Lamar basketball is challenging for a championship,” Price said. “I’ve always said that we can’t take the elevator to the top, you have to take the stairs.
“We’ve taken little steps to be one of the top contenders in the conference. Now we have to prove that we’re here to stay.”
MFaye@BeaumontEnterprise.com | Twitter.com/mattGfaye