First of all, my apologies to the poster who requested pics from Saturday's practice. Our resident photographer, my girlfriend, did not attend, and I forgot to bring my camera.
They played three 20 minute scrimmages, with the scores to each remaining in the 20s. It was all about defense. As expected, we ran a lot of 2-2-1 and full court man to man. Coach Grant and staff demands that the players exhibit intensity on defense.
There were more turnovers than I would have liked, but again, most of this was due moreso to aggressive defense than sloppy offense. One of the biggest concerns coming into the season is depth in the post with Gueye out with an injury. A lot of people have asked me if JaMychal Green has gotten any bigger, and the answer is no, but I do not view that as a bad thing. His quickness is a big part of what makes him effective, and he runs the floor very well, which is extremely important in our system. His outside shot was on, and he even made a 3. You all know how I generally don't like to see power forwards and centers shooting from the perimeter, but if JaMychal can continue to consistently make shots from 16+ feet out, he will present a lot matchup problems in the front court.
As we already know, Tony Mitchell is a man amongst boys and plays larger than his size. He did take a couple of bad shots, which is to be expected. He really needs to improve his outside shot to help his chances of going to the NBA, and he showed signs of doing so toward the end of last year, but he was off Saturday. Every other aspect of his game was awesome though.
Carl Engstrom played nearly the entire time, and he has improved. His footwork is better, and his hands are not quite as bad. He did actually catch a couple of passes and rebounds, but he still has issues in that department. He runs the floor very well for his size, and played pretty good defense. He still can't finish around the basket. He has come a long way, but still has a long way to go. I wish he would play with more confidence, he just seems a little tentative and unsure of himself at times.
Nick Jacobs should be able to help us out some. He looks the part and played good defense. We really didn't run much through the post in the half court when he was in the game, so it's hard to get a good feel for his offensive ability. He was as good as could be expected for a freshman post player one week into practice. The bottom line is, Jamychal MUST avoid foul trouble this year. He picked up a couple of dumb fouls far away from the basket going for steals in the press, and frankly, probably should have been called for more, as the refs were letting them play.
As a side note, I am pretty sure the coaching staff told the officials not to call too many fouls. I like taking this approach in an early scrimmage, as our guys should be well prepared for physical games in the season. However, given our style of play and the way we play defense, be prepared for us to get called for a lot of fouls. Thankfully, with the exception of the post players discussed above, we have some depth now.
I am sure everybody wants to know how the new guys looked. Rodney Cooper does not play like a freshman. He made a 3, played great defense, and made good decisions. He's athletic and a great fit for Coach Grant's system. He will see significant playing time early on, in my opinion. I saw both Levi Randolph and Trevor Lacey play in high school. I never saw either one of them play defense like they did Saturday, especially Levi. These kids have definitely bought in and are working to get better. They both have good looking shots, and I like Levi's midrange game.
A lot of people have asked me if I think Retin Ojomoh can take minutes from Eblen at backup PG. My answer is yes and no. We all know Eblen has some limitations, but he plays within himself and does a good job given those limitations. He's not a scoring threat, layups aren't even automatic with him and you can forget about jump shots, but he takes care of the basketball, makes good decisions, and plays solid defense, especially for his size. Ojomoh clearly has a lot more upside and can actually score. He is faster and more athletic, but he had some problems with the press. I can see Ojomoh maybe giving Releford a breather against more half court oriented teams until he gets more experience.
Last season, lack of 3 point shooting was our achilles heel. The good news is we now have several guys who CAN make a 3, as demonstrated in the scrimmage by Trevor Lacey, Trevor Releford, JaMychal Green (okay, we still don't want this to be a common occurrence), Levi Randolph, Charles Hankerson Jr, Tony Mitchell, and Retin Ojomoh. The bad news, right now I don't see any of the above being considered a consistent threat from out there. Everybody who made one, also missed quite a few. I would like to see Releford take a few more shots.
I really like the way Charles Hankerson plays, and I could see his playing time significantly increasing over last year, at least early in the season until some of the freshman get more maturity. He plays with a reckless abandon, dude is all over the place. He still looks awkward at times, and while he can shoot, when he misses, he misses badly. Still, he's the kind of guy that can make some plays and give us a spark, making everybody else on the court a little better.
Coach Grant lets his assistant coaches coach. All of the assistants were very involved throughout the scrimmage while Grant took a more passive approach, but when he did speak, he really got the players attention. Every time I noticed Grant giving instructions, it was always in regards to defense.
There was a pretty good crowd there, I would estimate maybe 1,200 or so. Still, I do wish Coach Grant would do a better job of promoting and marketing. I spoke of my desire to have a Midnight Madness here before, so I won't rehash that now, but even in regards to this open practice, I spoke to many people at the football game later that day who said they did not even know about the bball practice. Many of these fans said they would have gone if they had known about it. I also know some people who didn't attend because of the football gameday parking situation, but I will keep my thoughts on Gene Hallman to myself for now.
Keep in mind this is only one scrimmage one week into practice. A lot can change between now and the start of the season. For now, we look a lot like last year's team, great defense, and improved but still suspect outside shooting and lack of depth in the post. We clearly have more depth on the wings thanks to the freshmen, and I definitely see a lot of potential in this team.
I plan to attend the closed practice for Tide Pride and Tipoff club members Wednesday, and hopefully I will be able to post a recap by Thursday.