Five weeks ago we started practice and set up a six-week training camp style program to get our guys ready for the season. Coach told the guys immediately that he was going to be extremely tough on them, and he certainly followed through. The guys came to realize pretty early that how we established ourselves in the first 6 weeks of practice would go a long way towards how long we play in March.
On Friday, after an off day Thursday, Coach met with our guys to set the tone for the beginning of the season. Our training camp time was over and now it was time to get down to the specifics of preparing for games. We knew we had a game the next day and that once it was over Sunday was a time to start preparing for Brown, South Florida and Ohio.
We had a lot of questions we wanted to answer in the pre-season, and we answered most of them. The first priority was our health, and that question is still unanswered. Abdul still has not played much in the pre-season but is working very hard on his strength training to make sure when he plays he can go 100%. We hope to have him back on the court very shortly, and his veteran presence will certainly help our backcourt. Rome looked pretty rusty on Saturday night, but it was still a positive step in the process. Obviously he will not be back to form the first time he steps on the floor, but he continues to improve and he's another veteran whose poise and leadership are essential to our success.
We also wanted to make sure we took on a tough defensive mentality in the pre-season, and we have done that. We've committed to playing tough and playing together on the defensive end of the floor, willing to help each other out when something breaks down. We are not completely where we want to be on that side of the floor, but we are close. We played very good position defense on Saturday night and we still have a week to clean things up. We have made great progress on that end of the floor, and the kids have really bought into a defensive mentality for this team.
Finally we wanted to make sure we shared the ball on offense and got everyone involved. We want to get back to the form we had two years ago, when we had five weapons on the floor at all times and our offense was extremely balanced. We had 27 assists on 35 baskets on Saturday night, a great indicator of unselfish play. With the number of shooters we have, we feel we can be very dangerous if everyone is touching the ball.
Granted, exhibition games are not always the best indicator. Despite a talented roster on paper (Hey, Lawrence, what happened?), the USDBLers didn't exactly light up the Providence sky with their intensity. However they had beaten Seton Hall and did have a lot of guys who could score, so it was still a good result. We have to be happy with the effort and the team play.
So, the pre-season is a wrap. Now it is for real. Like I said, a lot of questions have been answered. Can Donnie McGrath step in and help right away? How about averaging 10 pts, 8 assists, a 2.5:1 assist to turnover ratio and 6-10 from 3-point range? And the best thing about Donnie is all he ever talks about is how he needs to get better. Will Marcus Douthit get back into form? His effort and focus have been great, and he gave us 10 and 8 off the bench in just 18 minutes. Can Maris Laksa re-locate his shooting touch? That got answered pretty quickly on Saturday night. Will the offense get back to its 2000-01 NCAA Tournament form? 86 points per game, 55% from the field, 41% from the three. We'll take those numbers. Will Tuukka Kotti get comfortable and be ready to contribute? He's given us 11 points, 6 rebounds and great defense in two nights. And his confidence is growing every day.
Keep in mind, however, it is only the pre-season. There is a slight difference between the Global All-Stars and at Alabama or at Boston College. We have used a bunch of different line-ups and tried all kinds of combinations, and we are happy with the result.
When we started on October 12th we defined ideas as a staff as to where we wanted to be heading into the season. As this Saturday gets closer, we feel like we are in great shape. When we get Ab and Rome back at 100%, we'll only get better.
Let's make some noise at the Dunk Saturday night. We'll see you at the Brown game.