Notebook from men's basketball preseason practices

October 17, 2005 · MT Media Relations
MURFREESBORO, Tenn. - New NCAA legislation enabled college basketball teams to practice two hours per week prior to the official start of preseason practice and Middle Tennessee received an added bonus with eight full practices prior to a Canadian Tour during Labor Day Weekend.

Still yet, with three days of preseason practice in the books, the Blue Raiders are realizing getting acclimated to the routine and daily grind is different than what they have been doing in previous weeks.

"Now the practices seem more demanding and the tempo is much faster," said freshman forward Dino Hair. "You really have to focus and be able to do it day after day. I think the time we've had leading up to this has been good but this is still different."

Middle Tennessee fourth-year coach Kermit Davis says there is an obvious reason the practices take on a different meaning once mid-October hits.

"It's different because it's for longer periods of time," Davis said. "The NCAA only allows you two hours for the week leading up to preseason practice and now you are going about 2-1/2 hours for a practice in one day, and then you are coming right back so what happens is fatigue sets in a little bit, the daily grind sets in, so it's repeating the process every day, which is a lot different for them."

While there is still the matter of retention and steady improvement, Davis says the work ethic has been outstanding and gives the team a base on which to build. In fact, the newcomers have been the least of the problems in the early going.

"We've really had more problems with a couple of guys who have been here," Davis said. "Our young guys have been fine, they are on the floor, flying around. I'm not saying they are where they need to be or as physical as they need to be, and a lot of that is just strength, but I'm excited about their effort."

NEED MORE TOUGHNESS: As pleased as Davis has been with the effort he has seen in the first three days of practice, he has detected an area that needs improving.

Toughness has been the trademark of Davis' teams at Middle Tennessee as evidenced by the Blue Raiders being the second-winningest road team in the Sun Belt since he arrived in 2002. Middle Tennessee also is 43-4 under Davis when leading at the half and 46-6 when leading in the final five minutes.

All of these are signs of a mentally and physically tough team that is able to answer challenges and overcome adversity on the road, and protect leads in late game. Early in this preseason practice; however, the toughness is not where Davis would like to see it.

"We've got to get a lot more toughness into our team," Davis said. "I'm proud of their effort but with so many young guys they don't realize the sense of urgency with every possession. We will get there. They have been a receptive group to coach and as the practices have gone on, at an early stage, we have become better with each one. That's a positive sign."

One player who has demonstrated the trait is transfer Bud Howard, a junior guard expected to become an impact player in 2005-06. Davis says Howard has exemplified toughness in practices.

"I just try to work hard every day and get better," Howard said. "I know we have work to do but I think we are having some good practices. We just have to continue to improve and get better each day, and I think we are on that path."

FEW GOOD MEN: Leadership is going to be crucial with such a young squad and nine newcomers, and senior Fats Cuyler and junior Kyle Young are paving the way for the Blue Raiders in the early going.

Cuyler is in his second season at Middle Tennessee, while Young, who took a redshirt in 2002-03, is in the fourth year of the program.

"I've been extremely pleased with Fats and Kyle," Davis said. "They have been, mentally, our best players in practice. They have been our two toughest guys and shown great leadership. I think they have influenced a lot of the new guys and have tried to help them along. Brian Lake has been very good from a toughness standpoint and a sense of urgency with the new guys. Marcus Morrison has his times, but we definitely need Marcus to assume more of a leadership role on our team."

Cuyler says he's been impressed at how quickly the young players have been able to pick up and retain various aspects of the game.

"I think having some time to practice before the official start of workouts has helped this team tremendously," Cuyler said. "They are picking things up much quicker than those of us who were newcomers did last year. I think they are way ahead of where I was at this time a year ago. We still have a lot of work to do, but I think we have a good group of guys who want to work hard and be good. It's our job as upperclassmen to show them the right way of getting that done because we know what is expected."

INFIRMARY REPORT:Senior forward Marcus Morrison missed Monday's practice due to a slightly sprained ankle. He is day-to-day.

Junior transfer Adam Vogelsberg was unable to play on the Canadian Tour due to a shoulder injury, but he has responded well to rehab and has been productive in Middle Tennessee's initial practices.

"Adam is a lot better and healthier," Davis said. "He has really good toughness. Adam has to get stronger, but he tries every day. He has shot the ball well in the early practices and he understands how to play. He has a good basketball IQ, and he needs that to maybe make up for some things. He has good quickness, but not great quickness, he's not a great jumper, but those guys have to rely on technique and understanding of the game, and he's got that."

WEISSE JOINS STAFF: Dan Weisse has joined the Middle Tennessee men's basketball staff as a graduate assistant.

Weisse played at UW-Milwaukee for Head Coach Bo Ryan for two seasons before Ryan was named head coach at Wisconsin; and he closed out his career playing for current Tennessee coach Bruce Pearl the final two seasons.

Weisse served in the same capacity at Wisconsin-LaCrosse last season.

"I'm excited to be here getting to know the staff and players," Weisse said. "You can see the staff does the right things in the right way. I really believe in what they are doing. I was lucky enough o play Division I at UW-Milwaukee and to come here and see things inside the lines, so to speak, has been great. We've been working long and hard but this a great place to be."

The previous three graduate assistant to serve in the position under Davis at Middle Tennessee all have landed Division I assistant positions. Marcus Mason (2002-03) is at Denver, Al Pinkins (2003-04) was hired full-time at Middle Tennessee and is currently on staff, and Tony Jasick (2004-05) is currently a full-time assistant at IP-Fort Wayne.

"We spent a lot of time on this position because it's real critical to our staff," Davis said. "Dan came highly recommended by Bo Ryan, who signed him and is now the head coach at Wisconsin. He played for Bruce Pearl for two years. Bruce and his staff talked about Dan's loyalty and work habits, and he just loves basketball. Dan is very driven, he's a young guy who is a great listener, and he has great rapport with our players. I think he's going to make a fine coach."

FAN JAM: The annual Blue Raider "Fan Jam" will take place, Nov. 3 at 6:30 p.m., and will feature a 3-point shootout, dunk contest, fan and student shooting games, as well as a Blue-White scrimmage to cap the evening.

Members of the Blue Raider men's basketball team and coaching staff will be available for autographs and photo opportunities following the event.

"We are looking forward to this year's 'Fan Jam' because we are going to do some things that we believe will make it even more fan-friendly than in the previous three years," Davis said. "We are encouraging student groups, as well as community groups, to get involved in the contests and promote their respective groups or businesses. Our players are looking forward to it because I know they enjoy the interaction with the fans and youngsters.

"For several of our new players, this will be the first time they will have met several of our fans and, at the same time, it will be the first time our fans will have the opportunity to see our newcomers in action. It should be a fun night."

More information regarding "Fan Jam" will be forthcoming later this week as far as details. Any groups who would like to participate in the shooting contests should contact Director of Marketing, Mark Meadows, at 904-8381.

EXHIBITION GAME: Middle Tennessee will play its only exhibition game of the preseason against Union University on Nov. 15, at 7 p.m.

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