Team preview: McNeese State

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(Information in this team report is as of October 1.)

New McNeese State men's basketball coach Dave Simmons knows a little something about winning.
He knows even more about winning in the Southland Conference.

Simmons, whose first collegiate head-coaching job is located just 45 minutes from his childhood home of DeRidder, La., arrives in Lake Charles having served as an assistant on three Southland Conference regular-season championship teams and on three league tournament champions -- at three different schools.

One of those three was McNeese State, back in 1999. His most recent hand in a title run came last season, when he served as an assistant at Northwestern State. The Demons not only won the conference tournament but also defeated Iowa in the first round of the NCAA Tournament.

Lucky? Maybe. But in Simmons' eyes, the luck has more to do with his new job than what has happened in old ones.

"I'm just ecstatic. I pinch myself every day hoping I won't wake up and realize this is just a dream," he said. "A lot of guys get a chance in coaching to be in a certain situation and in a certain place. But this situation, and this place, is a dream come true for me."

When he does wake up, Simmons will realize he also has four starters back from a McNeese State team that had to have been considered a pleasant surprise in 2005-06, finishing in a tie for fourth after most preseason predictions had the Cowboys between seventh and 10th.

He's hoping the upswing continues in his first season.

"They made a strong run," he said. "They had a lot of unknown factors coming in. They had a lot of different players coming on from junior college, and it took some time to adapt to the system. But they peaked late in conference play, and that says something about the players here.

"Hopefully we can build on what they started last year."

Simmons wasn't hired until August 8 after the abrupt departure of former coach Tic Price, whose contract wasn't renewed. He was cut loose July 31 without so much as an explanation.