Blue Raiders open 2013-14 with first official practice

Davis and Hammonds dish about upcoming season

September 30, 2013 · @MTAthletics

MURFREESBORO, Tenn. - The Middle Tennessee men's basketball team held its first official practice for the 2013-14 season Monday afternoon on the main floor of the Murphy Center.

MT's 3:30 p.m. practice Monday was open to the public and several fans took advantage of the opportunity to get their first glance at the 2013-14 squad. In the future, the Blue Raiders will hold practice Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays at 3:30 p.m. with additional 6:30 a.m. training sessions on Mondays and Wednesday.

"It's a little different than in years past because, I believe, it's like the 26th time that our team as gotten together, counting June and July," said head coach Kermit Davis. "They have been for short abbreviated periods so it's not like the first official day used to be 15-20 years ago. The guys that were able to practice, I really enjoyed coaching them. We've been hit with a rash of injuries with five scholarship guys out today, so we're beat up right now. But it got the young freshmen, Marcus Tarrance and Ronald Ross a lot of reps today."

Middle Tennessee returns eight players from last year's squad that posted a 28-6 record, including starters Shawn Jones and Kerry Hammonds II. As juniors, Jones and Hammonds helped guide MT to the program's first NCAA Tournament appearance since 1989 and the seventh all-time.

"I feel like we had a good first day, just trying to get our new guys used to what we're doing and the tempo," Hammonds said. "We're just trying to get them used to the offense and just trying to lead and get our other returning guys to lead our new guys. I feel like we're probably at a similar place we were two years ago, when Marcos (Knight), Bruce (Massey, Jr.) and Ray (Raymond Cintron) and all those other guys came in. They weren't really used to the culture, but once the new guys get used to that we'll be fine."

During the 2011-12 season, the Blue Raiders posted a 27-7 record and a 14-2 mark in conference play en route to a Sun Belt Conference Championship.

"When we have everybody here, all of our returning guys, we're a good team," Davis said. "They've got great leadership; they understand winning. They understand the physical-ness we have to play with and they really help the new guys. Now, all of a sudden, we've got three or four of those older guys out and now it becomes kind of the new guys have to help carry practice. Like a lot of new guys, they're going to struggle a little bit, but I'm proud of them. They're going to be fine. We've got a lot of work ahead of us."

Davis might feel like the Blue Raiders have a lot of work in store for them to prepare for their season-opener, but he's no stranger the work ethic required for success. Just two years ago, he took a team right at .500 (16-16) and produced back-to-back 27-plus-win seasons. Under Davis' guidance, the Blue Raiders recorded a 19-1 mark in Sun Belt Conference play last season, winning the regular season league title for the second-straight year and third time in the last four seasons.

On a 16-member roster, MT has eight returners and eight newcomers. Despite half of the team consisting of newcomers, it doesn't appear to have affected team chemistry one bit.

"Team camaraderie is good," Hammonds said. "We hang out outside of the gym and bring each other to the gym. Basically, we're a tight-knit family. We're going to be good."

MT opens the 2013-14 campaign, hosting Truman State for an exhibition game Nov. 4 at 7 p.m. The Blue Raiders tip-off regular season play Nov. 10 against Southern University at 4 p.m. inside the Murphy Center.

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