Beesley becoming dynamic player in final year
Michael Riccio – Sports Editor
Men’s basketball coach Scott Burrell said Luke Beesley has had a great impact on the team after transferring to Southern last year.
“You know he’s going to be successful no matter what he does,” Burrell said. “You want to coach kids like that, that want to come to college, get their degree, and do the best they can and take basketball as far they can.”
Beesley, a senior forward from Champaign Ill., transferred to Southern for his junior and senior seasons after playing at Parkland College, a two-year community college in his hometown. At Parkland, Beesley played both basketball and baseball during his first two years.
Beesley said he went to his first basketball game when he was three-weeks old, and his father was a coach before coaching him. His father, Joel, also played basketball at Valparaiso for four years.
“I’ve always been around sports and basketball has been the biggest sport just because he was a coach when I was really young.” Beesley said. “I was always around practices, always going to his practices and messing with all of his players so I’ve always been around the game ever since I was born.”
In high school, he had offers from Division I schools for baseball, but said they were not full scholarships, and did not have many offers for basketball.
“I decided to go to Parkland, which has had pro guys get drafted as well as a lot of division I transfers,” Beesley said. “So, I was thinking I go there for one or two years, play well, and go Division I for baseball.”
When he arrived at Parkland though, the basketball coach was also the academic advisor. As he was getting classes as a baseball player, the basketball coach asked if he wanted to play.
“The baseball and basketball coach talked about me doing both,” Beesley said. “I decided to do that for two years at Parkland and it was a great decision for me. I loved both coaches but basketball kind of just took over my life by then.”
His basketball team went to the NJCAA Tournament in both years he played, finishing sixth in 2016 and fifth in 2017. Beesley said since basketball season kept going into March, he could not get into baseball too much. However, playing in the tournament allowed him to be recruited by Southern.
“Coach Burrell came to Illinois where the National Championship was and saw me play,” Beesley said. “I didn’t know if I wanted to keep playing basketball or if I just wanted to go to school but I decided to change routes and come out east. I’ve never been out east like this., so it’s been a good decision for me to kind of explore the world and use basketball to see different things and get an education.”
Burrell said he noticed that Beesley did the “dirty work” at Parkland that elevates every team.
“Whether it’s taking charges, setting screens, making jump hooks, left or right handed, he does the small things a lot of kids don’t want to do,” Burell said. “He’s fun to coach because he wants to get better.”
During his freshman season, Beesley averaged 5.7 points and 5.8 points per game. As a sophomore, he averaged 8.4 points and 7.4 rebounds per game. On the baseball field, he played catcher. In 21 games played as a freshman, he had a .242 batting average, .390 on base percentage, and a .424 slugging percentage. He also added two homeruns. As a sophomore, he played in just six games, walking once and recording two hits.
Beesley said he gets his athleticism and ability from being a catcher because he had to crouch all game. He also said baseball has helped his mental game as a basketball player.
“You just learn things from different sports,” Beesley said. “[Baseball] is a grind. We’re playing doubleheaders Saturday and Sunday and then practice on Monday so it’s a mental grind and as a catcher, I’m kind of controlling the game behind the plate, calling pitches. I never really had a break and that’s kind of helped stay locked in.”
As a junior at Southern, Beesley started 14 of the 27 games he played, averaging 5.4 points and 5.6 rebounds per game. This year Beesley is averaging 10.5 points and 9.6 rebounds per game. He has also recorded four double-doubles in eight of the games he’s played, all starts. He is also second in the conference in field goal percentage.
“Last year, I was just trying to feel my way around,” Beesley said. “It was just new to me. Division II basketball, playing basketball year-round, I’ve never done that before. A new coach, new system, I was just trying to feel what I could do to help the team. This year I’ve found a different niche of trying to be aggressive on offense and try to help the team win in my last year.”
Burrell said this year, Beesley has more of a voice and has become a great leader for the team. He said he came to campus this year after summer break with a purpose.
“Get his degree and to be a great basketball player,” Burrel said. “He’s business. He’s business-like on the court and in the classroom.”
Senior guard Isaiah McLeod said Beesley works hard in practice every day and is going to play hard all the time.
“He’s been a workhorse,” McLeod said. “He does all the little things a lot of people don’t do nowadays. Just seeing from practice and in games, he’s starting to score a lot more and be more of a threat in the post and he’s starting to knock down a lot of free throws and jump shots.”
Beesley said offensive rebounding is his strong suit but does not “really know when that came about.” Beesley grabbed 73 offensive rebounds last season, second in the conference, and ranks fourth this year with 20.
“On offense they try to box me out and I just don’t let them do it,” Beesley said. “I feel like I get good reads off the rims, especially at home. I just know where the ball is going to go off the rim. Sometimes on the road I have to watch the rim and make sure I see where the bounces are going, and I think I have a good act of going after the ball.”
Beesley said he takes pride in being aggressive and going after the ball so he can kick it out to the team’s shooters.
“We have four great shooters on offense so that’s one thing I’ve been preaching at trying to do,” Beesley said.
McLeod, one of the Owls “four great shooters,” said he knows the ball is coming once Beesley gets the rebound and is a big part of his success this year.
“He plays a big role in me being able to score the basketball,” McLeod said.
Beesley also is tied for the lead in the conference for total rebounds per game. Burrell said every night, the team is going to get the best from him.
“I wish guys would help him more because he pounds the boards on both ends,” Burrell said. “Injured, sick, he’s still going to go out there and compete. He knows this is his last year and he’s trying to go out on top.”
Beesley said he is also trying to be more aggressive offensively in his final year, especially over the last few games. In his first two games of the year, he scored nine and six points. But in the last six games, he has reached double-digits in five of them, including 18 against Caldwell on Nov. 25, his most since arriving at Southern.
“The first couple games I was kind of hesitant,” Beesley said. “We have a couple of great guards that can get to the basket and kick it to me so when I get that, I want to make sure I finish and then get to the free throw line as much as possible.”
Beesley said he was never really a scorer in his career dating back to high school, but his mentality now is to be aggressive in every game and practice.
“Right now, I just want help the team score,” Beesley said. “I feel like if we have an inside and outside game, it’ll be tough to stop us.”
Beesley has yet to shoot a three-pointer during his time at Southern. and said he has never attempted one in his whole college career. He said in high school, his only three he made was from half-court. He said because of how he was raised, and his father being a center, he has “never really been taught how to play on the perimeter.”
“I guess over those whole entire years of learning the game of basketball I’ve never developed a three-point shot,” Beesley said. “In pickup with my friends I’ll shoot three’s but when I get into a basketball setting,
I’m more comfortable with my back to the basket, playing on the block, doing dirty work. That’s just what I’ve always done.
Defensively, Beesley is also in the top five in the conference in blocks with 11. Burrell said Beelsey is a great shot blocker and was surprised how athletic he is.
“He has great timing, uses his body well and people don’t really understand how athletic he is,” Burrell said. “It’s fun to see him block a lot of shots.”
McLeod said Beesley has particularly improved his post defense as well this year.
“He’s been working on his feet a lot, getting a lot quicker so he’s been able to slide with defenders and become a better defender on the ball,” McLeod said.
With the team graduating Jerry Luckett, Jr., and with the only returning forward from last year being Taurus Adams II, Beesley has emerged as the main player in the front court. He said he had the feeling of being the main big man before at Parkland.
“It’s just trying on the court to give the best I can,” Beesley said. “Try to help the guys that are maybe on the bench that could help us produce and get minutes we really need down the stretch. It’s just trying to be a leader and help as much as I can.”
Beesley was put in a leadership role this year, being one of two returning seniors, along with McLeod, to start the season before Joey Wallace returned to game action on Dec. 1. Burrell said with the team struggling to a 3-5 start after being voted first in the Southwest Division in the NE10, players feed off of Beesley’s energy.
“Great leader,” Burrell said. “Plays with great emotion, great energy, passion. Everything he does is positive so young kids learn from him.”
McLeod said Beesley is more of a leader by action because he can be quiet at times. He said because “he does the little things” such as grab offensive rebounds, take charges, and be in right defensive positions, his teammates notice that.
“He works hard every practice every day,” McLeod said. “The way he plays in the game is the way he practices. The younger guys see that, and they try to follow that because if you want your minutes, that’s how you have to play so they see him doing that and they try to follow that.”
Beesley said it’s interesting being in a leadership role because of all the new players on the team. The Owls welcomed eight newcomers to this year’s squad, and Beesley said he and McLeod must teach them the team’s system.
“We have to try to teach guys how to play the game, how we want to play the game, how coaches try to teach us,” Beesley said. “As leaders we want to make sure we’re working with them and understanding if they mess up, we’re going to be there and help them.”
Since he is an education major, Beesley said changes his teaching style because he knows everyone learns differently.
“I know some people are visual learners, some people need to be told what to do, what not to do, so I need to be able to lead them,” Beesley said. “I think me and Isaiah and the coaching staff, we’re trying to work our way and it’s kind of difficult at times, but we need to just be the leaders that we can and we know we are.”
Photo Credit: SCSU Athletic Communications