CARBONDALE -- Saluki redshirt freshman forward Brendon Gooch followed the path last season that many freshmen around the nation do, giving up the opportunity to play to earn an extra year of eligibility down the road. What was unique about Gooch's situation is that he chose to redshirt.
"It was tough. I wanted to go out there and play with the guys, but I also wanted to get better," Gooch said. "They asked me if I wanted to redshirt. They said it would be good for me and compared me to Armon Fletcher. He redshirted in his freshman year and he's doing pretty well now. Hopefully, I can follow his path."
The Belleville native used the redshirt season to grow not only as a player, but as a student and as a person. Coming into college, Gooch said he was pretty shy. He did not go out of his way to talk to others, but now he enjoys the opportunity to socialize with other students at football and women's basketball games. Gooch said he's thriving as a student thanks to his redshirt season.
"I got to focus on class work more than basketball since I was just practicing. It really helped me adjust and settle in to college life," he said. "I'm taking a lot math classes since I'm an accounting major. I've already learned a lot about accounting that I didn't know before. I never knew about income statements or balance sheets. Now I feel like I've got a good idea of what goes on there."
On the court, Gooch said he's improved upon his defense and speed, and is helping the team as a spot-player at the stretch-four position. He played 58 minutes during the non-conference portion of the season and scored nine points on three 3-pointers. He also grabbed 15 rebounds, including five in his Saluki debut vs. Winthrop.
Those who followed Gooch in high school would likely be surprised to know that he took a year off to improve his defense. Gooch led Althoff Catholic High School to back-to-back state finals with his defensive prowess. The former Crusader led the team with 56 blocks as a senior and averaged more than seven rebounds a game in both his junior and senior seasons.
Three players from Gooch's high school team went on to play at the Division I level including Saint Louis star Jordan Goodwin. Gooch was Althoff's tallest player meaning that he often guarded the opposing team's center. However, at 6-5, Gooch would sometimes be the shorter player in his matchup. He credits his anticipation in helping him overcome height differences to record a team-leading 56 blocks.
Gooch is the only freshman on SIU's veteran roster, and he and sophomore Aaron Cook are the only underclassmen. He knows he'll need to pick his spots to help the team -- a bucket here, a rebound there, or a blocked shot.
"In practice you can see it. Even when I don't block shots, I'm able to alter them," Gooch said. "I can just do some different things on the defensive end of the floor now and I think that my anticipation helps with all of that."