It was a long, hot summer for college basketball fans, and it seems to
have finally released its grip. School opened and the nights became chilly
and that's fine. The start of the NFL season was exciting, but only for
the purpose of signalling that the basketball season was nearing. I have
no use for the actual NFL.
Media day, and Midnight Madness and the start of practice really didn't help matters, not like we all thought. It reminds me of the long run up to Halloween when you were a kid. You got all jazzed up and dressed up and trick-or-treated for three hours and came home with a pillowcase full of candy.
And mom let you have one stinking mini-Snickers, because it was a school night. You had to wait for the rest.
I know your pain. So to quench the neverending thirst for VCU hoops, at least for now, I called Will Wade to find out exactly what happens between the start of practice and tipoff on November 1.
"We put in the building blocks of what we want to do," Wade says. "For example, we introduce pieces of the press and pieces of the offense. It's more concepts than absolutes. We want to get them bought in to the concepts and then show them how it all fits together as we get closer to the games."
It's about building, Wade described, bringing the kids along so that it all comes together by the time Virginia Union for real, and then Florida Gulf Coast for real-real, visit The Stu. It makes perfect sense. An underrated facet to the way VCU plays is proper positioning. It's important to know where to trap, how to trap, and the passing lanes to clog. It's all a process.
"Early on we'll teach them to jump to the ball, then teach them about interchanges, then guarding to the line," says Wade in his best coach speak. "We will build it up."
It's also the havoc in half court--where to blitz a ball handler, weak side defense, those concepts. We saw Shaka trot out some spot zone defense last season. Those principles are taught. It's learning the offense and finding option A and then counters when defenses try to take away your strengths.
Early season practice also means drills, the foundation and fundamentals that beget success. You know the stations: rebounding, ball handling, defending, shooting. These basics are interspersed into the swift-moving practice. Even those seemingly mundane tasks are important, and designed to be part of a building process.
"We're looking for consistent energy, effort, and enthusiasm," says Wade. "We do a lot of station work in the preseason, working through specific drills. (A good example) is guarding a flex screen. Once the season starts we won't do stations, but when we're preparing for someone like Towson who runs the flex screen, we will be able to say 'go guard it.'"
(Basketball geek note: the flex screen is familiar to you. It's basically the play where the point guard passes the ball to a big man in the high post and goes to set a screen. The player he screens for comes to the high post and takes a handoff from the big man. Once he takes the handoff he can shoot, drive the lane to pass or attack the rim. It's more complicated than that, but I don't have to coach it and you don't have to run it. Sitting in the stands, I call it the handoff play.)
So we've been practicing for keeps since last week, but the kids have been working hard all summer. You've seen the Seal team videos and other assorted fitness training from The Daniel Roose Experience. I don't know specifics measurements and such, but I can tell you this--the difference in this year's team and last year's team, physically, is striking. The best word I can muster: sturdy.
They're going to need it. The A10 is a much, much more physical league. There are 10 Drexels. The encouraging thing is that the kids look the part, but are still fast and long and that's important. In the havoc style, you have to be difficult to throw the ball around or over. A bonus this year: for the most part everybody has been through the preseason for a year. They know the expectations.
That allows Smart to conduct a more focused practice. And if you're more focused, you get more done. I've been fortunate to attend practices for several teams, and I can tell you this: nobody comes close to the speed and crispness of a Shaka Smart practice.
Havoc is habit wrapped in chaos,
something the team does every time it steps on the floor. They do it the
same way but differently every time. By instilling habits now, the chaos is allowed to blossom when the games start.
And that's kind of like this season. It's going to be the same, but very different. Now can November 1 just get here already?