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Defense on agenda for men's basketball

Preseason practice notebook

October 14, 2007 · MT Media Relations
MURFREESBORO, Tenn. - Middle Tennessee's basketball team has an agenda entering the 2007 preseason practice: Defense. It is one thing to talk about defense but the Blue Raiders appear to have a mindset on the defensive end in their initial preseason workouts.

The Blue Raiders ranked first in the Sun Belt in scoring defense (63.8), second in field goal percentage defense (.419), but 10th in 3-point field goal percentage defense. Despite the overall impressive numbers and lofty standing, it wasn't good enough.

"We played hard and competed but we need to have more of a defensive mindset and I see that early with this team," Blue Raider coach Kermit Davis said. "Our defense is way ahead of our offense. I do think we have a chance to be one of the best defensive teams because we can create a lot of turnovers, hopefully."

Middle Tennessee should be able to create problems by turning up the pressure full court more so than it did last season.

"I believe we are a lot better defensively," guard Calvin O'Neil said. "There is a lot of athleticism on the court. We can pressure some teams and force turnovers and that is going to help improve your offense too."

The emergence of 6-foot-10 center Theryn Hudson, as well as the addition of rangy 6-8 forward Uriah Hethington should improve the post defense, and Dino Hair (6-9) and Desmond Yates (6-7) are long and can create defensive havoc.

"I believe we are much further along defensively right now than we were last year," Hudson said. "People are talking and communicating and we are getting stops, rebounding and making it one-and-out. That's the key and that's what coach Davis is stressing early. We have a lot of players who have been in games and know what to expect."

Yet, it's been a freshman who has continuously impressed Davis from a defensive standpoint early in the preseason.

Guard Broderick Gilchrest has been a stopper in the first few practices.

"Broderick has shown us a lot in the first few practices and now we have to see him maintain the intensity from day to day," Davis said. "He has been very impressive and is so quick defensively."

O'Neil has become a steady defender and is relentless. He fits the Blue Raiders' defensive mindset from a leadership standpoint. Junior guard Nigel Johnson was a strong defender down the stretch and regularly guarded the opposition's top offensive player.

QUOTING DAVIS: On timing of fall break: "The timing of our fall break is great for us because there are no classes Monday or Tuesday so this allows us the opportunity to have two practices a day and really get a lot accomplished in a four-day period."

SILENT LEADER: O'Neil is not a vocal person and he has a soft-spoken demeanor but the junior from Newark, N.J., has emerged as a leader among the Blue Raiders' many veterans entering the 2007-07 campaign.

It's not a role O'Neil has sought rather it is one he has earned due to his work ethic. It is also a role he doesn't mind filling.

"I enjoy being a leader and helping my teammates come along," O'Neil said. "When that happens it makes you feel better because you are helping your team get to that next level."

EXHIBITION ACTION: Middle Tennessee will face Lincoln Memorial in its only exhibition game of the preseason, Nov. 8, at 7 p.m. at Murphy Center.

SEASON TICKETS AVAILABLE: Fans may purchase Middle Tennessee men's basketball tickets by calling the Middle Tennessee Ticket Office at 1-888-YES-MTSU or (615) 898-2103. This year's season ticket package features a record 17 games, including the Dec. 15 contest against Memphis at the Sommet Center in Nashville, as well as the second game of the doubleheader pitting Western Kentucky and Tennessee. The season-ticket package also includes all six games of the First Shot Exempt Tournament (Nov. 15-17). Price for the package is $140.

Fans may also purchase the Blue Raider Combo Pack, which includes season tickets for both the men's and women's teams, for $210 per season ticket. The deadline for season ticket renewals is Monday, Oct. 22.

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