They were sharp shooters, power backs, and power hitters. They made an impact on SIU that set the stage for generations to come. They were feared by opponents. And now, they will forever be among the greatest that Saluki Athletics has seen. The six inductees into the SIU Hall of Fame for 2010 will each be remembered for their contribution to their respective program. In addition, they each helped Saluki Athletics return to the top of the Missouri Valley Conference in many sports.
Jerry Jones (Basketball: 1988-1990) In SIU’s basketball history, much has been made about the guards and their accomplishments. However, there are some big men worth mentioning, too. Arguably, Jerry Jones is among the best. Jones was one of the MVC's most dominant big men during his two-year career at SIU. A First-Team All-MVC pick in 1990, Jones was the league's rebounding champion that year, averaging 10.3 rebounds per game. With that mark, Jones became one of only two Salukis to have averaged more than 10 rebounds per game in a season at SIU (Ashraf Amaya was the other). Jones earned numerous conference awards, including AllNewcomer team (1989), All-Defense team (1990) and All-Tournament team (1989, 1990). The Salukis advanced to the NIT in both seasons Jones played at Southern. “What I remember is that the fans were right there with every play,” said Jones. “During the years I was there, we were competitive with Illinois State, Creighton, and Bradley. With every play, they just drive us. Carbondale’s such a small town, but they really packed into the stadium. It was really exciting to hear it.” A transfer from UTEP, Jones also felt that Southern provided one of the best gameday atmospheres in the nation, despite its smaller size. “(UTEP) was a bigger university and the gym was a little bigger, but there is something special about the fans at SIU,” said Jones. “They’re really supportive.” Jones resides in Monee, Ill., where he is a sports performance trainer. Each day, Jones passes on the lessons he learned at SIU to his students. “I deal with a lot of young kids,” Jones said. “I just tell them to work hard and persevere.”
Tom Koutsos (Football: 1999-2003) Tom Koutsos didn’t just make a mark on opposing defenders. He also made an indelible mark on the SIU record books. The hard-nosed running back from Oswego, Ill., recorded three 1,000-yard seasons -- the most by any back in school history -- and finished as SIU's career rushing leader with 4,715 yards. That mark also ranks second all-time in Missouri Valley Football Conference history. In addition, he is Southern's career leader in rushing touchdowns
(52), 100-yard rushing games (22) and rushing attempts (988). He piled up more than 5,000 career all-purpose yards. Even though Koutsos was a First-Team All-MVFC selection in 2000 and 2001 and an honorable mention All-American in 2000, his most important contribution came during his senior year, as he helped lead the program to a 10-2 record and its first playoff appearance in 20 years. That also became the first of SIU’s seven-straight playoff berths. Yet, it isn’t the records that Koutsos remembers best about SIU. “Probably the best thing I remember about SIU is the camaraderie and having the ability to play football on Saturdays with your best friends with the change that happened while I was there the last four years,” said Koutsos. “Going from the bottom of the conference to the top was a really gratifying experience.” With his football career behind him, Koutsos returned to his hometown, where he is currently a sports performance coach. However, Koutsos’ football career at SIU helped him learn many life lessons. “Nothing last forever…so just enjoy the moment,” Koutsos said. “Be thankful for what you have and that’s how I live my day. I had a great time at Southern Illinois. Those were the best days of my life and I just cherish it.”
Al Levine (Baseball: 1990-1991) Al Levine was one of the most successful pitchers in school history. After spending two years at SIU, Levine went on to have a lasting professional career that spanned 10 seasons in the major leagues, including stops with Kansas City, Tampa Bay, St. Louis, Chicago White Sox, Texas, Anaheim, Detroit and San Francisco. At SIU, Levine led the MVC in saves with 11 in 1990, and led the league in ERA with a 1.71 mark in 1991. The Salukis' career saves leader with 19, he was named First-Team AllMVC in 1991. Levine was a key member of the 1990 NCAA Tournament team, SIU's last team to make an NCAA Tournament appearance. As a pro, the right-hander pitched in 416 games, primarily as a reliever, and recorded 24 wins and a 3.96 career ERA. Yet, it was the infamous crowds on “The Hill” that Levine remembers the most from his days at Abe Martin Field. “They were very helpful supporting the team,” Levine said. “Every game, The Hill would be packed. There were guys out there with cones just screaming at guys. It was great. It really helped the team.” Throughout his long major league career, Levine also noted the SIU alums while on the mound, including Steve Finley and Jerry Hairston, Jr. Since retiring in 2005, Levine resides in Scottsdale, Ariz., and still treasures his time at SIU. “It was a great time,” said Levine. “I’m very happy that I chose SIU over some other
Dana Olden (Volleyball: 1989-1992) Dana Olden was one of the most prolific middle blockers in school history. In fact, she still ranks in the top 10 in 13 single-season or career categories. A two-time First-Team All-Gateway pick (1991, 1992), she is second in career block assists (333) and second in career kills (1545), attempts (3784) and block solos (154). She also ranks among the single-season leaders in career hitting percentage (8th) and digs (9th). From 1990-92, she led SIU in kills, attempts, block solos and total blocks. Olden also added Second-Team All-Gateway (1990) and Gateway Newcomer-of-the-Year (1989) honors to her trophy case. “I enjoyed spending time with the teammates that you really don’t appreciate until you are done,” said Olden. “You don’t appreciate the bond and the relationships that you have until it’s over.” From the first moment she set foot on campus as a recruit, Olden knew she belonged at SIU. “When I was recruited there, I had other schools to go visit, but I made my decision when I was on that campus during that visit. I cancelled the other schools that I was going to go visit because I felt really good when I went to go visit.” Olden also felt like being a member of the volleyball team helped her get through the rough times. “If you have a goal, just being a part of the whole athletic department and the athletic teams there really gave you a boost of confidence that helped me throughout my whole career,” said Olden. Olden resides in Westlake, Ohio, and is a marketing director for Time Warner Cable.
Cheryl Vernorsky (Softball: 1989-1992) During her career, Cheryl Venorsky was a true student-athlete. The shortstop was a two-time First-Team All-MVC selection (1990, 1991) and a FirstTeam All-Great Lakes Region pick (1991). An administration of justice major, she maintained a 3.8 cumulative GPA and was a three-time Academic All-American (1990, 1991, 1992). Her crowning achievement was winning the GTE Academic All-Americanof-the-Year award in 1991, a year in which she held a perfect 4.0 GPA. Venorsky still ranks among the career leaders at SIU in hits (6th), stolen bases (6th) and runs scored (8th). She led the team in home runs in 1991, a season in which Southern finished 42-7, won the conference with a 14-0 mark and advanced to the NCAA Tournament. “All my years there, we had a great group of people,” said Vernorsky. “The girls were always great and had a lot of talent. The thing I remember best was playing with that set
Venorsky currently resides in the St. Louis suburb of Swansea, Ill., where she works as a police officer. As a police officer, Vernorsky draws a lot of comparisons from her playing days at SIU to her current career. “We’re a team here too at the police department,” Vernorsky said. “We are all a team and we have to get along with each other and respect each other.”
Kent Williams (Basketball: 1999-2003) Among the many greats of Saluki Basketball, one name is usually near the top of that list: Kent Williams. After turning down prominent programs like Utah and Illinois, Williams helped rejuvenate SIU Basketball with his knack for scoring and tenacious defense. As a fouryear starter, teams were 88-42 during his career and advanced to two NCAA Tournaments (2002, 2003), including a Sweet 16 appearance, and one NIT bid (2000). “Kid Kent,” as he was admirably called, became just the second player in school history to surpass 2,000 career points. He was a two-time First-Team All-MVC selection (2002, 2003) and runner-up to Kyle Korver for Missouri Valley Conference Player of the Year in 2003. He ranks among the school leaders in numerous career categories, including 3pointers (2nd), free throws (2nd) assists (8th) and games started (1st). “What I remember best is when I got there, it wasn’t really the popular thing to do,” Williams said. “As I left, it became the winning program that it is now. Just seeing it grow is what I remember the most.” With the likes of Walt Frazier, Mike Glenn, and Ashraf Amaya, Williams knows it is a huge accomplishment to be among the SIU greats. “It’s definitely an honor, especially with the guys that came before me,” said Williams. “They’ve laid the groundwork. You never want to see it slip.” Currently an assistant coach at MVC rival Missouri State, Williams believes that even though he may be working for the Bears, there is still love for SIU. “It’s hard to put in words,” Williams said. “The toughest thing for me is to go into SIU Arena and have the fans rooting for the other team. I take every challenge and you go out and you play head-to-head.” “The biggest thing is I’m rooting for SIU, so long as it doesn’t hurt the program at Missouri State.”
Published on Nov 18, 2010
An in-depth look at the careers of six former SIU student-athletes and their induction into the Saluki Hall of Fame