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Blue Raiders Impressive At Start Of Hoops Workouts

October 18, 2004 · MT Media Relations
MURFREESBORO, Tenn. - Middle Tennessee men's basketball coach Kermit Davis hasn't had the luxury of starting preseason practice with players familiar with his system in his first two seasons with the Blue Raiders, but the veteran coach has an experienced group of returners in 2004-05 and it has shown at the outset of workouts.

Three days into official basketball practice Davis says he can see a difference in how much the Blue Raiders are able to get accomplished and, as a result, workouts have been crisp and up-tempo.

"We've still got a lot of hard work ahead of us, but I do think with the returning guys we've finally got it to where early in the year guys - at this point - are enjoying hard work, kind of embracing the work and just play," Davis said. "You are supposed to have good practices, but I thought our team was very aggressive defensively (Monday). I like our team right now; we just have to keep going."

While Davis has been impressed with the workman-like approach of his squad, returning players also say they clearly see a difference in where the Blue Raiders are at this point of the preseason as opposed to a year ago when only one starter returned.

"I definitely think we are ahead," said senior guard Mike Dean, the Blue Raiders' leading scorer last season with 16.2 points per game. "We have nine guys who have practiced before and our four newcomers are picking things up quick so that is helping us make strides. I know it's just the first three practices, but we have looked good and we have been competitive. At the same time, we still have a lot of work left to do."

Experience and knowledge has enabled Middle Tennessee, which put together a 17-12 worksheet and reached the semifinals of the Sun Belt Tournament in 2003-04, to get more done at a quicker pace thus far.

"We are really trying to get into the full court a lot earlier this year," Davis said. "We want to play in transition more. I want to get into the 5-on-5 quicker. I think that helps you and we can do that because we have guys coming back."

LEADERSHIP IS KEY: Middle Tennessee is blessed with quality leadership entering the 2004-05 season with the return of four starters and nine players who lettered last year, but the key is the veteran guidance provided by three quality seniors - Dean, Michael Cuffee and Steve Thomas.

The trio takes their leadership role serious, particularly during practices and conditioning.

"We try to bring it every day and hope the other guys follow us," Thomas said. "We are getting a lot done at practice and everybody is real competitive. Coach Davis' practices are always going to be competitive, but we are a group that looks forward to working hard and competing every day. I think we have a lot of depth and anybody can contribute."

Davis has been pleased with the way his seniors have led, not only in the first three practices, but throughout the preseason conditioning and 4-on-0 workouts.

"I wouldn't trade our three senior guys for anybody from a leadership and character standpoint," Davis said. "The older guys are the base of our team, and I thought they were good today."

WELCOME ABOARD: Middle Tennessee welcomes four newcomers this season from a recruiting class ranked No. 1 in the Sun Belt by HoopScoop for the second straight year. Junior college transfers Fats Cuyler, Jonathan Loe and Marcus Morrison, along with freshman Brian Lake, are in their first season with the Blue Raiders. Thomas also is a newcomer but he practiced with the team last season after transferring from the University of Georgia.

Davis says the newcomers have had their moments at the outset of the preseason camp but he points out they are still in a transition period.

"It is an adjustment," Davis said. "They can't sustain a high level of play for long periods of time. It's obviously different because our older guys have a better concept of what we are doing. What happens with guys who have been through it, they usually can sustain work for longer periods of time and that's the case. Marcus Morrison has had some really good times; Fats has had great times; same thing for Jonathan Loe and Brian Lake, but they just can't do it for a long period of time. They will be able to get there, but I am pleased with the new guys. Lake has really been a pleasant surprise for a freshman."

SPREAD THE WEALTH: Work ethic and attention to detail has been outstanding through the first three practices but sharing the ball and making the extra pass are areas where the Blue Raiders will concentrate on improving in the coming days.

Because the defense is ahead of the offense there is a tendency to rush shots or not make the extra pass to find the open man.

"We do have to share the ball better, make the extra pass and play unselfish," Davis said. "Pressure is kind of getting us to be impatient because the defense is ahead, which is to be expected. We've got to get ourselves to make a better determination of getting back defensively and stress how important that is to what we are trying to do. We are gradually making strides."

FAN JAM: Middle Tennessee will unveil its men's and women's basketball teams during "Fan Jam" on Oct. 21 at Murphy Center beginning at 7 p.m.

Various student games on the court will begin at 6:30 p.m., and the 2004-05 Lady Raiders and Blue Raiders will be introduced at 7 p.m. The 2004 Fan Jam will feature competitions for fans and students, an intrasquad scrimmage between the Blue Raiders, a 3-point competition with both the Blue Raiders and Lady Raiders, but with a twist. Players from each squad will join forces with different student teams for a fun evening of competition. The Blue Raiders also will have a dunk contest and players from both squads will be available for autographs and photographs following the festivities.

The first 250 people through the doors will receive free T-shirts and free hot dogs and Coca-Cola products will be available. Additionally, the Band of Blue pep band, dance team, cheerleaders and Lightning will make appearances. Other prizes and giveaways will take place throughout the evening, including the opportunity for a lucky student to win tuition and books for a semester.

Fans also will have the opportunity to pick available seats and purchase their season tickets for the 2004-05 campaign.

"I think there's a buzz about basketball from the men's side and the women's side and that's a real good thing," Davis said. "We would like a good turnout for people to maybe come in and pick out their seat for season tickets. There's going to be a lot of student and community activity. There's also going to be a lot of interaction between our players and coach (Stephany Smith's) players. We would love a great turnout, and I know the players from both teams would appreciate the support."

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