New SEMO coach leaving door open for departing players, recruits

Southeast Missouri State's Nygal Russell (25) attempts to dunk over Missouri Baptist defender John Yaeger (32) during the second half of a game this past season at the Show Me Center.
Ben Matthews ~ Southeast Missourian

This story has been updated with the latest information.

There has been no bigger problem encompassing the Southeast Missouri State men’s basketball program than roster instability.

Former coach Rick Ray lost his job – and many games along the way – because he simply could not retain players.

Upon hiring Ray’s replacement Tuesday, Redhawk athletic director Brady Barke spoke on what he needs from new coach Brad Korn to alleviate that issue.

“We need someone who can develop strong relationships with our student-athletes,” Barke said, “and mentor them to become better basketball players and better men. Someone who can create a positive culture within our program.”

Korn began doing that by reaching out to the Redhawk players Monday and he did so because the bleeding of talent had already begun, and continues to do so, even after his hiring.

Class of 2020 recruits Phil Russell (Vashon High School) and Ramean Hinton (Curie (Ill.) High School) both de-committed soon after Ray was let go while returning players Isaiah Gable and Alex Caldwell both announced their intentions to transfer last week.

The latest players out the door are redshirt sophomore guard Nygal Russell and sophomore forward Sage Tolbert, according to a posting on

“I did reach out to everybody on the team,” Korn said, “whether they said they were going to come back or not, whether they were in the portal or not. I just wanted to introduce myself, because, at the end of the day, this is their school still.”

In the case of Caldwell, Nygal Russell, and Tolbert, they are three players that improved statistically from the season prior, even amid the mounting defeats this past season.

Russell increased his minutes from 16 per game in Ohio Valley Conference play to 22 this season, while his shooting improved from 35.5 percent to 46.5 percent overall.

The 6-foot-4 athlete improved his 3-point shooting from 32.4 percent to 42.3 percent.

As for Tolbert, he was by far the team's leading rebounder (seven per game) and second-leading scorer (10 points per game).

Korn’s message to all of the departing players and recruits was that they are “welcome back here.”

“I want to be sensitive to the change,” Korn said. “Change is hard. There is a lot of emotion that goes into it. I don’t know them and they don’t know me, so I think that it is unfair for me to come in and say ‘I don’t want him if he doesn’t want to be here.’ I don’t think that is the right way to go about it either.”

With Russell’s decision, Southeast has just six scholarship players returning to the 2020-21 roster and no committed recruits.

Senior center Darrious Agnew, senior guard Oscar Kao, sophomore guard DQ Nicholas, redshirt sophomore guard Jordan Love, redshirt junior guard Chris Harris, and Nebraska transfer forward and redshirt junior Nana Akenten are the six returning scholarship players as of today.

“I expressed to them that this is their school and they are welcome to be here,” Korn said. “I would love for them to come back because this is their school, but at the same time, I want to be sensitive to their feelings and emotions as they navigate the process, as well.”

Korn currently has seven scholarships for the class of 2020 at his disposal to offer.

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