For the Indiana State basketball programs, the trip to St. Louis for Missouri Valley Conference has been a downer in the recent past. Teams on both the men's and women's sides were often picked lower in the pecking order than they felt they deserved.
Media Day 2011 was a different story for the Sycamores.
Both the ISU men and women's teams were picked in the top half of the MVC for the first time ever. The ISU men were picked third and had four first-place votes. The women were picked fifth.
Moreover, there were individual honors to go with it.
Sophomore point guard Jake Odum was named to the MVC Men's Preseason All-Conference Team. Senior center Shannon Thomas was named to the women's Preseason All-Conference Team.
Odum is the ISU men's first preseason all-conference men's player since David Moss in 2006.
“It's a great honor to get recognized by the conference, but it's a team game. Without us winning the conference tournament last year, I don't think I'd be in this position. I have to thank my team for putting me in that position,” Odum said.
Teammate Myles Walker, ISU's senior representative at Media Day, was thrilled for his teammate.
“I'm really proud of Jake. He earned it every inch of the way. He's come a long way since being a redshirt freshman to getting the starting point guard position. He's a great teammate on and off the court,” Walker said.
The ISU women last had a preseason all-conference player two seasons ago when Kelsey Luna was chosen. Thomas was the only center chosen for the women's team. Thomas averaged 15.1 points and 8.6 rebounds in 2011.
“It means a lot, but not just for me, but for the entire team. There's an expectation for us this season and I want that, I want to fulfill that expectation. I want our team to succeed and we're excited for the season,” Thomas said.
ISU women's coach Teri Moren noted that Thomas's work ethic has improved along with her production.
“She's put the time in, especially in the weight room. We talk about going beyond the two hours they spend in practice and Shannon has done that. She's been committed to getting in the gym more,” Moren said. “She also needs to realize there's more work ahead of her. She can't be satisfied with being a preseason pick. She still has to get in the gym and work on her game. I anticipate she'll do that.”
The ISU men — who finished 20-14 last year and qualified for the NCAA Tournament last time for the first time in a decade — had their highest place in the preseason poll since 2002.
It was another high point in a good week for the men's program. On Monday, it was announced that ISU will play at least seven games on the ESPN family of networks. ISU will play an additional two games on Fox Sports Midwest.
ISU coach Greg Lansing said that the Sycamores were picked on the high end of his expectations.
“I thought we'd be anywhere from third to fifth. I don't think we're where Wichita or Creighton are with the gap in talent. They're where they are and deservedly so,” Lansing said. “We were picked seventh last year and we thought we were better than that and we showed that. Now it's expected of us, but this is all preseason stuff.”
The ISU women will play one game on Fox Sports Midwest this season. The ISU women have four starters (Thomas, Brittany Schoen, Deja Mattox, Taylor Whitley) back from a team that finished 16-16 a year ago. The
Sycamores were picked fifth on the strength of their returning talent, but there is also excitement about the six newcomers on the roster.
“Last year it was harder with coach Moren being new. With us knowing the system this year, we can teach our younger players how she wants everything run,” ISU senior Brittany Schoen said.
The ISU women play their first exhibition against Bellarmine on Nov. 4. The ISU men play Truman State in an exhibition on Nov. 5.