Originally posted on Fox Sports Midwest  |  Last updated 12/2/11
ST. LOUIS -- After he had time to study his mistakes, Brian Conklin crossed his arms and spoke about how the effort fell short of his standard. He had scored 13 points in a team-high 35 minutes during Saint Louis' loss to Loyola Marymount on Tuesday, the Billikens' first defeat of the season. He stood in a corridor Thursday at Chaifetz Arena aware that as a senior leader he must do more. Teammates dribbled balls near Conklin before practice. The 6-foot-6, 230-pound forward averaged a team-high 16.4 points per game through the Billikens' 6-1 start that moved them into the Top 25 for the first time since the 1993-94 season (this week they are No. 23 in the Associated Press poll and No. 25 in the ESPNUSA Today coaches poll). Yet fatigue bothered him Tuesday during the fourth game of a six-day Los Angeles road trip. "That's not what a leader is about," Conklin said. "Even though I was tired, I should have been able to get the guys up and make sure they were ready to play." The reaction is an insight into the focus of the Eugene, Ore., native who hopes his final season produces the Billikens' first NCAA Tournament berth since 2000. He appreciates Saint Louis' Top 25 ranking, but he is careful not to give it much weight, saying, "It doesn't matter where you are at the beginning of the season -- it's where you are at the end." Like his team, Conklin embraces a physical style of play that led to notable early victories over Washington, Boston College, Villanova and Oklahoma. "So far he has met any expectations I would have," Saint Louis head coach Rick Majerus said. "He has been a great leader. He, by far, would rank in the top five of guys who I have had over my career in offseason work. He always had determination, but the game is making more sense to him." Conklin is eager to continue to mature within the game. Last season, he finished second on the team in scoring (8.7 points per game) and rebounding (4.3 per game). This season, he and guard Kyle Cassity are the lone seniors on a roster that includes five freshmen and six sophomores. Although the Billikens are young, Conklin calls them "veteran young." He trusts his younger teammates. He credits playing time current sophomores received last year during a 12-19 campaign as part of the reason for Saint Louis' November run. But Conklin contributed last month as well. He scored a season-high 25 points in victories over Washington and Oklahoma. And he was held to fewer than 10 points just once (nine against Villanova). "He has put a lot of work in the weight room, and his body looks totally different than it did three years ago," said Scott Highmark, a former Saint Louis guard who played from 1991 to 1995 and was part of the last Billikens team to be ranked. "He's healthy. I'm not surprised at the success that he has had, because he's one of those kids who will run through a wall. He'll do whatever is necessary to make it work." In the corridor Thursday, Conklin slapped his right leg as he recalled the most difficult challenge of his college career. He rolled his right ankle in the second exhibition game of his sophomore year. He received cortisone shots as treatment, but he still played with pain. To persevere, Conklin drew from lessons of his youth. He credits his father, Joseph, and grandfather Jack for teaching him values of work and will. Joseph drove trucks for a living and never went to college, so he told his son to make the most of an opportunity. "I grew up with a hard-knock life," Conklin said with a smile. Those influences have prepared him for his final season. His scoring average increased from 6.1 points per game as a freshman to 8.7 last year. In addition, his rebounding average jumped from 3.9 per game in his first season to 4.3 as a junior. This season presents new challenges beyond the court. He finished an undergraduate degree in finance. Now, he is working on a master's in business administration. "The kid just works hard," said Cassity, who averages 7.3 points per game this season. "I tell everybody all the time that he is the hardest worker I know. He's more aggressive than past years. In the post, when he gets it in there, he's making good moves. He's making a lot of guys who are pretty good look kind of bad." And that is good for Saint Louis. To Conklin, the Billikens have the talent to recreate their strong November. If they do, they will beat expectations: They were picked third behind Xavier and Temple in the preseason Atlantic 10 Conference poll. Before he left the corridor for practice Thursday, Conklin took a moment to look ahead. He joked that he hopes the Billikens are in the NCAA Tournament the next time he plays four games in six days. He sees the potential. "The sky is the limit," he said. "We could do a lot of things." And so could he.
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