The last two years, anybody familiar with Southern Conference basketball would have told you that Georgia Southern’s Eric Ferguson and College of Charleston’s Trent Wiedeman are the best frontcourt players in the league.
Weideman transferred to GSU when Mark Byington was hired as the Eagles coach before the season started, providing a one-two punch of forwards in Hanner Fieldhouse that would make anybody in the SoCon — or the Sun Belt, where Georgia Southern will call home beginning in July — nervous.
Unfortunately for GSU, both players are sitting out the season with injuries.
Fortunately for GSU, the coaching staff got a little bigger.
When freshman forward Kyle Doyle fouled out of the Eagles’ last game, an 80-78 win over Samford, Ferguson immediately put an arm around Doyle’s neck and offered some encouraging words.
Ferguson and Wiedeman are about as involved in the games as they can possibly be without suiting up, coaching and yelling from the sidelines to encourage their teammates.
“We just want to keep the guys motivated, and sometimes during the game there’s things that we see from the sideline that they don’t see,” Ferguson said. “Hearing it from a coach is different than hearing it from a player, it’s a different side. We need to show leadership now so next season we can lead the team to the Sun Belt.”
“I see him grabbing the young guys and talking to them. They respect them,” Byington said of Ferguson. “Trent, he’s a yeller on the sideline. Sometimes (the team gets) tired of my voice or one of the assistant’s voices, but when one of their peers makes a good point, they always listen.”
Wiedeman may have come to GSU from a fierce in-conference rival, but he and Ferguson realized they both had to sit on the sidelines this year and the pair quickly developed a relationship on and off the court.
“I love Eric,” Wiedeman said. “He embraced me right from the beginning. Me and him have had I don’t know how many conversations about next year. We can’t wait. We’re going to put the work in after we get healthy.”
Byington, who was an assistant coach at Charleston until 2012 and has known Weideman since he was a freshman, was surprised just how much Weideman and Ferguson had in common.
“The thing that sticks out after talking to him for the last couple of months is how smart he is,” Byington said about Ferguson. “Both of them are great students of the game. They think the game, and they have a great passion for it. It wouldn’t surprise me if both of them got into coaching whenever their playing days are done.”
For now, they’re relegated to coaching instead of playing as they recover from injury. The biggest upside for Ferguson is that the time off the court has helped him develop in one area he felt could be stronger — leadership.
“I’ve never been hurt before so it’s especially tough, but watching the game from this perspective has allowed me to see more areas that I need to improve in my game. It helps me to be a leader too because I’m not really vocal, but I have to be when I’m on the sideline,” Ferguson said.
Ferguson, for one, is ready for next year.
“It’s going to be very exciting, because I’ve got a lot to prove,” he said.
That doesn’t mean he won’t do everything he can for the team, this year.
“I’m proud of the team,” he said, “and I think we have a chance to go out with a bang before we go to the Sun Belt.”
Matt Yogus may be reached at (912) 489-4908.