Illinois-Springfield coach Ben Wierzba, a former assistant to Marty Simmons at both Southern Illinois-Edwardsville and UE, will face off Saturday in an exhibition game against his former boss for the second year in a row.
The Aces and Prarie Stars tip in the Ford Center at 4:05 p.m. It’s UE’s second and final exhibition and the first for UIS.
How did this year’s game come together? “I talk to coach quite a bit, and it’s just one of those things I brought up – if they’d still be interested. You know how coach is. He wants to play different teams and get different kind of styles every year. I’m just fortunate that I worked with coach for four years, and he was able to bring us back and let us play. I really appreciate it.”
Have you and will you talk to coach Simmons this week? “(Laughs) We text back and forth. We talk enough during the season, and it’s en exhibition game. It’s for both teams to get better. It’s our first time out and their second time out. We’re just kind of seeing where our guys stand.”
Do you approach the game the same way as them in terms of spreading playing time? “We’ll do that. We’ve got a group of guys we want to see get minutes, but I want to see some of the new guys – some of the young guys and how they respond. It’s more just a chance for us to go against someone different.”
How does it change things that they’ve played and you haven’t, and will you look at tape of the UE-USI game? “We’ll watch it. We’ll go through the scouting report with them so we’re ready for the season, but it’s more about what we’re trying to do – what we’ve been working on for three weeks. It’s good to go out against a team like Evansville that has a guy like Colt (Ryan) who can score the ball and guys around him. Troy Taylor’s heart and soul – it’s going against kids like that who play at a high level where our guys have to compete and match the intensity.”
What style do you play? “Offensively, we’re trying to push it. We’ve got a lot of guys who can play, so we’re trying to pick up the pace a little more than we have. We’ll probably get out and run. We’ve got some of the same motion tendencies that Evansville has. We’re not as good as them with it, but we’re trying to incorporate some of that. Defensively, we play man-to-man and will probably pick up a little more full court than Evansville has – run and jump kind of stuff.”
Personnel-wise, who sticks out among your players? “We just had an intrasquad scrimmage on Saturday. I think a couple guys have stood out for us. Kevin Pettiford has come back for us – a senior point guard – that’s come back really rejuvenated and been good up to this point…Then actually our biggest question mark was our big position, and (6-foot-8 junior forward) Dylan Mosack and (6-foot-10 sophomore forward) Dylan Sparkman have been surprises the way they’ve been able to run the floor, their size and how they can finish around the basket. I’ve been really pleased with those two guys.”
How much have you and assistant coach Chad Harmon taken from time working with Marty Simmons? “Coach means the world to me. He’s one of those guys who, when I first got into coaching he made a phone call to coach Crews to help me get started out at West Point. Then he brought me back to SIU-Edwardsville, and when he got the job at Evansville he took me right along with him. I’ve learned so much from him, and I respect coach for everything he’s done and his family – they’ve been nothing but great to me. The basketball side of things, it’s just about putting guys in a position to be successful. We’ve tried to bring some of that over here and do the same thing.”