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Gazzolo Column: McNeese coach Simmons knows what's coming

Last Modified: Friday, July 26, 2013 2:45 PM

By Jim Gazzolo / American Press

It is one thing to be thrown to the wolves, it’s another to know it is coming.

Dave Simmons knows what is coming.

The McNeese State men’s basketball coach also knows what the future might bring.

Facing an demanding schedule this year, Simmons has been warned by others who have traveled the same road.

Last year Lamar played almost all of November and December away from Beaumont.

Now, being away from Beaumont isn’t the worst thing in the world, but when it comes to playing basketball games against top-named foes, it can be harmful to one’s health.

“Pat (Knight, Lamar’s head coach) has warned me,” Simmons said. “He told me not to do it.”

Simmons and the Cowboys really have no choice.

Cash incentives forced them to take some games and contracts have them on the road for others. Only twice before January will McNeese play in front of the home fans, those games to be against Louisiana College and Dillard University.

Starting the season at Michigan State shows just how rough the road can be.

“We will have our hands full,” said Simmons. “We will be tested. This is a tough schedule but we knew that coming in.”

It might be a tough draw, but Simmons says it is an opportunity for his team to win over local interest.

“If we play well, get a few wins then people will get excited to come and watch us and see what we got going on,” Simmons said.

OK, for him the glass is half full. Or maybe the coach is drinking the school’s Kool-Aid.

Either way, the schedule is what it is and the games will have to be played.

But one does wonder with only getting those two lower-division teams coming to town if the local basketball facilities are not the real problem.

Both Burton Coliseum and the Lake Charles Civic Center, the two sites McNeese calls home, are at best, outdated.

Both have had work done on them, but there is only so much a facelift can do. See Joan Rivers for proof.

However, it is when you talk of such things like the home court that’s when Simmons gets fired up.

The school, currently the only one in the Southland Conference that does not play on campus, hopes to change that soon. Talk about a new home gym to be part of a student health and recreation center has now become a little more than gossip.

McNeese President Dr. Phillips Williams said it was one of his goals to push for such a site in this, the school’s 75th anniversary year.

“We would love to get it done, to bring this to our university for the athletics program and the students,” Williams said. “We have a long way to go on the project but we are hopeful to get it done.”

That is good enough to get Simmons fired up.

“I see the future,” he said. “You start by talking about it, now you see some action. We just have to stay the course.”

That course, of course, will be one on the road this season, where the Cowboys will play in some noise places.

“We have to be the ones to step up, but it will be a great experience for our kids,” Simmons said.

He would not say whether he believes his home sites makes it tough to bring in quality opponents, but he knows a new gym would help.

“We need to get more students involved even at Burton,” Simmons said. “We have some but we need more. We also want to have a better atmosphere, a place that is exciting and people want to come and watch us.

“Already we have some loyal fans, but you want to get the kids more involved. A new gym on campus can do that. And with the excitement then there is a better chance to get teams to come here.

“Really, it is all about doing what is in the best interest of the students and the program.”

To say a new arena is needed would be an understatement. We have talked about that in this space for a few years now.

Patiently, Simmons has waited and hoped. Now he seems closer than ever to a new building for his club to be a reality.

However, the road to that day does appear to be a long one, literally.

And this year that road will start at Michigan State.

• • •

Jim Gazzolo is managing sports editor. Email him at jgazzolo@americanpress.com

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