The team had the annual open practice and bbq for Tide Pride and Tuscaloosa Tip Off Club members yesterday afternoon. When we arrived at 5 pm they had already started practicing. The practice was fairly brief and it was hard to tell a whole lot. They mostly did 5 on 5 half-court drills against the man and zone, ran through some offensive sets, an then did a bit of full court work. The coaching staff would stop play after nearly every possession to address issues or set up the next plays. The practice concluded with the players stretching while new strength and conditioning coach Lou DeNeen screamed at them. He seems to be quite a character.
I primarily focused on the new guys, as I think we all have a good idea of what the returning players are capable of. I was impressed with both Jimmie Taylor and Shannon Hale. Shannon made a 3 pointer from the corner, but was also able to play some defense and effect some shots in the paint. I can see him being a very effective 6th man type for us and help us stretch some defenses and open things up in the lane. Jimmie Taylor already seems more ready than Pollard was a year ago. He's skinny, but more than strong enough to defend in the post, and I think he has better instincts offensively as well. He's still a bit raw, but he had one dunk where he beat his man with a cut to the basket, and also had another play where he got open on the low block but mishandled the pass.
Algie Key is quick and athletic and will be a good defender. Hopefully with the new rules he will be able to get to the free throw line some. He won't be much of a perimeter shooter. I did not watch Tarrant and Kessons as closely since they can't play this year, but from what I saw they both have some talent and should be able to contribute next year. A year in our system of practice and watching games will help.
Nick Jacobs has lost a lot of weight. Coach Grant joked that he gave birth in the offseason, he's dropped about 30 lbs. Unfortunately, he was not noticeably quicker or able to jump higher from my estimation. Carl Engstrom is still wearing a knee brace, and not surprisingly did not play as well as he was before the injury. Coach Grant said both Jacobs and Carl need to take the next step mentally. Nick needs to play with more confidence that he can do some things he hasn't been physically able to do in the past. Carl was just starting to play more instinctively without having to think everything through when he got hurt last year, and it will take some time for him to get back to that point.
On the positive side, I think this team's talents may be more suited for Coach Grant's system than any others we have had. We have several guys who are capable of playing multiple positions and different roles, so we should have a lot of room for flexibility in match-ups. It may take some time to find the best combinations and playing rotation.
My concerns are that outside of Releford and maybe Hale, we don't have anyone that has a consistent perimeter jump shot. Obviously the lack of depth is a concern, as any injuries could really hurt us. Perhaps my biggest concern is how the new rules combined with our style of play and short bench could put us in some tough positions, especially early in the season.
For those who do not know, there are about 28 new rules or added points of emphasis this year on how the officials will call the game. The general philosophy is to call games much tighter against the defense to create more movement and increase scoring. Putting a hand on a player in a way that even slightly restricts his movement or impedes his balance is to be called a foul, using a forearm bar in the post is going to be called a foul, reaching in will be called more tightly, and two hands on a player is supposed to be an automatic foul. The block/charge rule was changed, now to take a charge the defender must have established legal guarding position by the time the offensive player makes his first upward motion with the ball to pass or shoot. Previously, he only had to establish position before the offensive player left his feet, or at the point of contact. The practice was not officiated in this manner (and who knows if the refs will actually call it this way once the season starts or not), and we foul, A LOT. I'm afraid we are going to have to make some adjustments on defense or else we're going to see a lot of Dakota Slaughter and Isiah Wilson toward the ends of games.
After practice, new AD Bill Battle addressed the crowd and introduced Coach Grant. Coach Grant said we are not satisfied with last year's results, and our goal is to make it into the tournament. He talked about the preseason schedule, and said he doesn't want to be at the mercy of the SEC portion of the schedule's RPI. He said Levi hyper-extended his knee and we dodged a bullet that it did not require surgery. He said we would err on the side of caution but he couldn't say for sure when he would be back, could be 2-4 weeks, could be longer. Regarding the new rules, Coach Grant said that we need to take advantage of them and get to the line and make our free throws. He said he expects to see some ugly basketball early in the season, but the coaches just want consistency, for the game to be called the same way in March as it is called in November. Also of note, Coach Grant mentioned this was really the first practice where they've had everyone healthy, with the exception of Levi, as Tarrant and Kessons have been banged up as well.
The event was not nearly as well attended as last year's version. I would guess 200 or so were there. As always, it was great to see Alias there, maybe he can add some things that I might have missed.