Prior to our second practice, our coaching staff met on Saturday morning about our previous night’s practice and the consensus was we were all pleased with what our team showed us. But, that’s what we expected. As I (@MarkPancratz) tweeted over the weekend, if you don’t have a good 1st practice filled with great consistent effort and energy, you’re in for a looooooong year. Thankfully, I don’t believe that will be the case with this team. During this morning meeting and then again after practice on Saturday a few topics of discussion led to a few early revelations about this team.
From an X’s and O’s standpoint, we are very behind from where we were at this point last year. Due to having five new guys that very well could earn playing time this year, we have spent a lot of time teaching them our offensive and defensive principles this training season. With only one new scholarship player, Kenny Hall, and one walk-on, Skylar McBee, practicing to start last season (Melvin Goins was hurt, Josh Bone wasn’t eligible until second semester) we advanced quickly to the more intricate concepts of our offensive and defensive schemes. It wasn’t until Friday and Saturday’s practices that we installed ball screen defenses other than our basic coverage and offensive play calls to go with our continuity offense.
As we worked through these more technical drills some things were confirmed-we are talented, long, athletic, tough and DEEP! Throughout the competitive portion of our practice it was tough to get each guy (especially the 2, 3 and 4 position) enough time on the court before it was the next guys turn to come in. The crazy thing about that is that two guys who were in our 10 man rotation last year aren’t even practicing, yet, thus making the competition when they return even more intense! Our biggest challenge as a staff this year will be molding these great players into an even greater team. On the other hand, one of the biggest hurdles our players will encounter is being selfless with the acceptance of their role for the betterment of our team.
At this time of the season these roles are still to be determined and our guys are competing that way. Every drive to the basket is impeded by some defender’s contact. Loose ball aren’t loose very long as they are gathered up quickly by an urgent two-hand grasp or dive to the floor. Each missed shot that comes off the rim is treated like a piece of meat that our hungry guys are clawing and tackling each other under the basket to get possession of. Former players Dane Bradshaw and Wayne Chism who were attendance concurred. An impressed Bradshaw told me “the depth and the fact that everyone is fighting for playing time has created a game-like intensity on every possession in practice. Guys don’t want to be subbed out because they don’t want to miss an opportunity to impress the staff.”
It’s true. Our players are hungry! However, those of you that have read my previous blogs know I am all about consistency. The guys that will play (not that I make that decision) are the guys that bring it every day. How can you fully trust a guy who plays great one game or on one play but then has an awful game or messes up on the next play? You can’t. Therefore, we are looking for the guys who have the most good days. We know everybody has bad days but who are the players that bring it each day and continually make their teammates better? These are the guys that will earn playing time as the cream always rises to the top.
Friday night’s practice was dominated by a few veterans—Melvin Goins and Brian Williams. Their understanding of what we were trying to accomplish offensively gave them a leg up. Although he didn’t score a bunch, Melvin led his team with a great understanding of our ball screen offense and ball hawking defense on the opposing point guard. You can tell Brian has been here 4 years. He has a great understanding of the timing and spacing necessary for our offense to be successful. In addition, Skylar McBee had one of his better days knocking down jump shots and making a few plays for his teammates.
There were a bunch of guys that stood out on Saturday. Kenny, Renaldo, Jordan, Tobias and Trae all had really good days offensively. In fact, Kenny Hall, who has been working harder than ever, may have had his best day of practice as a Vol. Trae utilized his ability to change speeds and some impressive plays in transition. The defensive intensity he faces from Skylar and Melvin every day is only making him better. John and Jerrone are working hard to grasp the new offensive system but both bring a notable toughness that rubs off on their teammates. Scotty continues to show flashes of brilliance on offense. If he can consistently initiate contact as he attacks the basket offensively and stay urgently engaged at all times the sky is the limit for him. Another guy that keeps helping his team in smaller ways is Steven Pearl. He continues to understand his role and play within himself while making his teammates better.
Sorry this one was so long! I hope you enjoy it!!