BBQ and Practice
A few weeks ago I went to the annual Tide Pride/Tuscaloosa tip off club bbq and practice. As always, I tried to focus on the newcomers. Shannon Hale and Mike Kessons sat out due to injuries. The practice was much more up-tempo than we've seen in the past. They started with the teams split working on various half-court drills, then there was a 20 minute or so full court scrimmage. There were much fewer stoppages in play than what we saw under Coach Grant's practices. Another major difference I noticed is that the assistant coaches are much more involved. Coach Pospichal is very energetic, and he even interacted with the crowd at times.
As Coach Johnson has mentioned publicly, we were practicing with a 20 second shot clock. My favorite part of the scrimmage was early on when coach Pospichal got onto one of our wing players about making a quick decision when receiving the pass from the point against a zone. If you read this blog over the last couple of years, you know that our guys holding the ball has been driving me crazy. I can't remember who the player was, but you could clearly hear coach saying some to the effect of "One second, that's all it should take, if it's there, shoot it, if it's not, look to the post or the corner, or put it on the floor and drive. Even if you make the wrong decision, that's better than holding the ball."
There's a lot of excitement about Dazon Ingram at point guard, and rightfully so. He is an incredible athlete. Unfortunately, he made a few questionable decisions with the basketball and frankly, his jump shot looks horrible right now. Justin Coleman appears to have gotten a little stronger, but I still don't know if he's strong enough to be an above average point guard in SEC play.
Donta Hall had a good scrimmage, and will provide some much needed depth in the post behind Taylor. He has good size, and while not quite the shot blocking ability of Jimmie, he can be disruptive on defense, get some rebounds, and finish around the basket.
As a whole, the team did not shoot very well in this scrimmage, but I do believe Brandon Austin can be a good perimeter shooter for us. He has good form, a quick release, and a smooth looking shot. Nick King is a very well rounded player and will help us out a lot next year, unfortunately he must sit out this season.
At the conclusion of the practice Bill Battle patted himself on the back and spoke a lot longer than anybody cared to listen before introducing the Retin who in turn introduced all of the players, including their nicknames. I wish I could remember them. He then turned it over to Coach Pospichal who then introduced Coach Johnson. Coach Johnson was very energetic as always, thanked people for coming out, and said the team was working hard and promised we would be entertained. He said there will be no more walking the ball up the court, our goal is to score in the first 5 seconds of the shot-clock, if that doesn't work, we have plays designed to score in the next 15 seconds of the shot clock, and finally if it gets under 10, we will have a few 3rd level plays to score in the final 10 seconds if it comes to that, but he wants the majority of our shots to come in the first two phases of the offense.
I also attended the tide tipoff event, which was more geared to the casual fan and student. As most of you know, I've been advocating for years for a "midnight madness" type of event, and this was fairly well done. It drew a crowd of approximately 7,500, thanks in large part to a performance by popular hip-hop artist Rae Sremmurd. I would say the crowd was probably 60% students. The event started with a video from Coach Saban, but we arrived about the time that was wrapping up. Both the women's and men's teams were introduced, and they took turns scrimmaging for a couple of possessions at a time. You really couldn't evaluate much about the players from this "scrimmage." It was like watching the NBA all-star game, it was obvious the players were instructed to play nominal at best defense. Prior to the scrimmage, the teams had a dance competition where they tried to mimic a routine from the dance team. They seemed to have fun with that. Next up was a 3 point shooting competition that Lawson Schaeffer won going away. I was disappointed that Brandon Austin did not participate. Finally there was a dunk competition, that featured way more misses than makes. Again, I don't think you can read into anything that happened here, the important thing is 8,000 people showed up and got to see the personalities on the team, and hopefully a good many of them will come out to some games.
Birmingham TipOff Club Opening Party
Finally, I attended an event here in Birmingham this week featuring a panel discussion with Coach Johnson, Pear, and coaches Haase, and Padgett at UAB and Samford respectively. Of interest to us, Coach Grant talked about the strength of the conference. He said somebody told him he had 3 starters returning and his response was, "I have zero starters returning. I wasn't the coach here last year, and everything is a clean slate." He said he won't know who the starting PG is until warmups in the game tonight, Coleman and Ingram are competing. He also said that Riley Norris and Shannon Hale are competing for a spot, as are Hall and Taylor. Reading between the lines, I think he was trying to convey the message that this is going to be a transitional rebuilding year.
I still think Bruce Pearl is a sleeze-ball, but I can see why he is successful. His personality comes across as being very likable, and he even joked about being the last person they asked a question regarding rules. He also encouraged people to go watch their team on the road, something I wish more of our fans would do, as we don't travel well for basketball at all. Of course, we need to work on packing Coleman first. Also, Haase is very impressive and I think UAB will be the best team in the state this year.
It is my understanding that we won a closed scrimmage against Belmont 85-69. This is encouraging, as Belmont has been a solid program over the years, but I wouldn't get too excited about that final score. Coaches are usually working on specific areas of weaknesses in these types of scrimmages without giving much thought to the scoreboard.
I also recently spoke to a former player who able to attend one of the closed practices/scrimmages. He echoed a lot of my observations, said Dazon is a great athlete and may be able to drive and finish strong, but he's raw and has a bad shot. He doesn't believe we really have anybody who can shoot the ball, point guard is a big question mark, and while we have a little more depth, post play is inconsistent. He's very excited about what Coach Johnson is doing from a recruiting and marketing perspective.
I hate to be a wet blanket on this the opening night of the season, but this team has a lot of holes, and is going to be playing a style of play that is not only new to them, but is not conducive winning games without being able to score consistently. Coach Grant's slow-it-down offense would actually probably give us a better chance of ugly-ing up some games to keep it close and hope for the best at the end against some more talented teams. This year is going to be a challenge, but it's important that we stay positive and stay behind Coach Johnson and this team no matter what. We have a GREAT recruiting class lined up for 2016, but remember, a commitment is not a signing, it's imperative that if we struggle this year we don't start to eat our own. We need to show future classes that as a fanbase, we support and believe in the vision that Coach Johnson is selling to them, and that this can be a fun place to play. In other words, don't let our record dictate whether or not you come out for a game.
Regardless, it's the start of BASKETBALL season, and a new era! These are exciting times. We're also hopeful to have a few new features on the blog here this season, that I hope you all will enjoy.
Please disregard any typos, and the rambling nature of this; I wanted to get it out there before our game tonight but I don't have time to proofread or put any thought into editing.