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Blue Raiders Begin Official Hoops Practice Saturday

October 14, 2004 · MT Media Relations
MURFREESBORO, Tenn. - After 21 years in coaching one would think the start of official practice would be old hat to Middle Tennessee third-year coach Kermit Davis, but the veteran mentor is as anxious as ever as the Blue Raiders prepare to take the court for their first full workout Saturday at 9 a.m.

Middle Tennessee returns four starters and seven players who received quality playing time from the 2003-04 squad, which fashioned a 17-12 overall mark and finished second in the Sun Belt's East Division.

"This is my 22nd year of coaching, but I think everybody has anxiety and nerves at the beginning and that's what makes you enjoy practice and look forward to it," Davis said. "You don't want to put too much emphasis on one practice but for these new players, it's an important time."

The Blue Raiders welcome four newcomers, as well as three transfers who practiced with the team last season but were ineligible to participate in games due to the NCAA transfer rule. Georgia transfer Steve Thomas (6-foot-9, 245) leads the trio of transfers and will become eligible at the conclusion of the fall semester. Four newcomers from a recruiting class rated No. 1 in the Sun Belt also take the court for their first full practice as Blue Raiders. Guards Fats Cuyler, Jonathan Loe, Marcus Morrison, and forward Brian Lake, are in their first season on the Middle Tennessee squad.

Because the newcomers are expected to play a sizeable role in Middle Tennessee's upcoming season, preseason practices take on significance and the luxury of having several returning players could become a benefit.

"I think having nine or 10 guys back that practiced with our team last year gives us a good base and makes it easier for the new players to realize what we are doing at a quicker pace," Davis said.

Even though Saturday marks the first day college basketball teams can practice as a whole, Middle Tennessee has been going through conditioning and 4-on-0 workouts during the off-season.

"Our individual workouts are geared, offensively and defensively, just to go right into the start of practice," Davis said. "We've been able to do a good job in our 4-on-0s to lead into practice so hopefully a lot of that carry-over will happen."

Leadership should be a strong characteristic for Middle Tennessee. Senior guards Mike Dean and Michael Cuffee are coming off strong seasons in their first year as Blue Raiders, and Thomas has been with the program for more than one year. The three seniors are complimented by a host of players - including Darrio Scott, Bryan Smithson, Kyle Young, Alex Weekes, Keith Christmas, L.T. Lockett, Wes Durrant and Clint Feher - who have been in Davis' system for a minimum of two years.

"I can't wait for practice to get started," said Cuffee, who produced 20 double-figure scoring games in 2003-04. "I've been looking forward to this season since the final game last year. We have a group of guys that are hungry and ready to get on the court and work hard to reach our goals. It's an exciting time and practice can't get here soon enough for me."

So what to look for during the early portion of preseason practice at Middle Tennessee?

"We have to do a really good job of making sure there is an emphasis on getting back defensively," Davis said. "We have to do a better job of contesting and forcing jump shots, and rebound the ball. What we are looking for are guys who are receptive to coaching and will fight through fatigue."

Middle Tennessee will play North Alabama in exhibition action at Murphy Center, Nov. 11 at 7 p.m. The Blue Raiders also will have "Fan Jam" Thursday, Oct. 21, beginning at 7 p.m. at Murphy Center. Doors will open at 5:30 and student games and activities begin at 6:30 p.m. The Blue Raiders and Lady Raiders will be introduced before a series of games between players and fans, including 3-point shooting contests and a dunk contest. The Blue Raiders will conduct a "Blue-White" scrimmage and both teams will be available for an autograph signing and photo session at the completion of the evening's festivities.

UPCOMING PRACTICE SCHEDULE
Saturday 9 a.m.
Sunday 3 p.m.
Monday 10 a.m.
Tuesday 10 a.m.
Wednesday 3:30 p.m.

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