Oct. 28, 2010
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HEAD COACH James Dickey
On first two weeks of practice
"The things that we really focused on early in practice were toughness, defense, playing hard and shot selection. It certainly takes a great deal of discipline to do those things. We want to build on what the team accomplished in that run last year. When you look at the make-up of our squad, it's a lot different. However, with the six guys we have returning from last year, we're really going to rely on them for leadership. We have three seniors, and it has always been important to us to provide great leadership on and off the court.
Those are the things we've worked hard on, and obviously any time there's a change you have to make a lot of adjustments in terminology. The guys are excited about getting on the floor. We've had some lengthy practices for a few reasons. One, being the toughness factor and two, we still have a lot of things we have to get in with the season quickly approaching. It's been exciting to be on the court with these guys and work with them on a daily basis."
On shot selection
"Surprisingly, our shot selection has really improved. We're going to give guys freedom to shoot; we're not going to give everyone the same freedom, but we're going to give guys more opportunities to shoot. They have to understand what is their shot and what shot they can hit, knowing that they can make a shot 50 percent of the time inside the arc and only 30 percent outside the arc. They have to understand if they're balanced or if they're open and if they have a good look at it. It's the simple fundamentals. We're not going to shoot a shot just because we're open. They have to understand that we are going to play up-tempo. We are going to take advantage of 3-point shots, but they're going to be good shots.
"They've gotten better in that area, but they still have a long way to go in terms of defense and being able to play the way we want to play. We've played hard at times, but we've got to sustain that effort throughout the game. You've got to play extremely hard when you're tired. Our guys are working hard to do that. In a normal year, you'd think shot selection would come on later in the year, but I've been really pleased with the guys. They've accepted their roles in terms of what's a good shot and what's a bad shot."
On the team leaders
"When you look at the team last year and then you look at the guys that we've got coming back, we're not going to have a lot of offensive points coming back. When you lose two fantastic players like Kelvin (Lewis) and Aubrey (Coleman) who averaged 42 points a game, it's a big question. Where are we going to generate offense?
"The first thing we're going to ask out of Zamal (Nixon) is to run the club. We want him to be an extension of the coaching staff out on the floor. He needs to defend, to take better care of the basketball, which is an area he knows he's got to improve. Early in practice he was really struggling with his shot selection. Now he's becoming a little more comfortable and as a result, he's shooting the ball better.
"We're not going to put the pressure on anyone that they've got to carry us offensively. We'd like to do it within the structure of our offense and what the defense gives us in transition or at half court. We've got to help our teammates score by screening and getting them open or sharing the ball. We're going to count on Zamal Nixon to have the ball, not turn it over, to the run the club and when he has an opportunity, he's got the open shot. We want to give him the freedom to score."
On projected starting lineup
"We will decide on who starts by who practices well and who practices hard. When we get into games, we'll see who produces. I really like these guys. I've enjoyed getting to know them and spend time with them in the office or spend time with them looking at their academics. They know there's a big change on how we operate off the floor and in between the lines. It's all about production.
"We certainly care about them. We always want them to be safe; we always want them to be healthy; we always want them to do well in academics, but when we step out on the court, it's all about production. Who's going to play the hardest? Who's going to do a defensive stop for us? Who's going to be good around the basket? Those are things are things the guys are beginning to understand. Playing time is something that is going to be earned, not given out."
On Maurice McNeil
"He did have really good stats. He has a chance to be a really rebounder and defender and shot-blocker. Also, he can put some points on the board. He runs extremely well when he decides to run, but you can't pick and choose. You've got to run all the time.
"Kendrick (Washington) made some big plays in the conference championship last year. He hit some big free-throws. He was slow because he had surgeries on his knees. Kirk (Van Slyke) was ill after the tournament and missed a lot of the off-season conditioning program. He's getting back to a level he should've been at in the summer. It's been a growing experience getting him back to a level we need him to be.
We have two freshmen in Mikhail McLean and Alandise Harris. Both those guys play more inside right now than they do out there on the perimeter, but they eventually will be able to go out there and face-up. Kirk (Van Slyke) can face-up and also go inside. We'd like him to be a little more physical around the basket, but he certainly has a nice touch.
Maurice (McNeil) is one of those seniors we're going to count on a lot to own that middle in terms of defense, offensive rebounding, defensive rebounding, and running the floor. When you can run like he can, you've got to take advantage of that in transition. He's got a really nice jump-hook around the basket and he's good at free throws. We're going to throw that ball low on the inside. We're going to throw it to Maurice (McNeil), throw it to Kendrick (Washington), throw it to Kirk (Van Slyke)."
On the new additions to the team
"I mentioned Alandise (Harris) and Mikhail (McLean). We also have Darian (Thibodeaux), who comes to us from Navarro by way of Kimball High School in Dallas. He also played on two tremendous junior college teams that went to national championship games. He played for a terrific coach, so he knows how the game needs to be played. He's had a hip-pointer; it slowed him a little bit but he's starting to get back to where he feels a lot better. Because of his experience and ability to shoot the ball and leadership qualities, he can be a good defender.
"Trumaine (Johnson) has been slow; he has what would be called a turf toe, and that's been sore. Joseph (Young) has really helped in practice up to this point. He's helped us in terms of playing both offense and defense.
We really look up to those upperclassmen. Guys like Darian (Thibodeaux) that have that talent, but also have the ability to know what's expected for teams that win because he played for Navarro.
"I've been really pleased with the way the guys have blended. We're starting to get much closer; we've spent a lot of time together. It's important to have a good feeling. The guys are starting to pick one another up and be positive and encouraging."
On what the team is lacking
"(Women's head coach) Todd (Buchanan) touched on it, and that's game conditioning. It's how we're going to play under certain situations and what kind of condition are we going to be in. Coach (Al) James does a great job in our strength and conditioning programs, but there's nothing like getting out there and playing a real game and the pressure that comes along with that type of situation. Conditioning is something we're going to look hard at the next few weeks in preparation of Nov. 12."
On how the team plans to play
"We're going to play defense. We're going to guard people; we're going to work very hard not to give up lay-ups, not to give up wide-open shots. We're going to be tough; we're going to dive on the floor for loose balls; we're going to give up our bodies to take charges. In order to take charges, you've got to look for the opportunity to take charges. You're not just going to accidentally be in somebody's way.
"Shot selection and understanding if you take a bad shot, it's like a turnover. I've met with our seniors some. We're going to sit down and put some things down like we always do about our goals for the season. Right now, it's been more focused on practice and what we can do individually to be better and make the team better. We've had a lot of individual meetings; our coaches have done a great job with talking to our players and showing them videos of practices and pointing out what we're talking about."
On how long practices are
"My idea of a long practice is probably three-and-a-half hours. Within the rules you can only go four hours, so how late we practice really depends on whether or not we do weights that day and other things. I have spent a little bit too much time stopping them and talking to them; that's why our conditioning is not where it needs to be.
"We need more reps where they're constantly running, and I'm not blowing the whistle to stop them to try to teach. We're going to have to learn a lot more on the fly. I've probably dragged our practices out longer than they need to be. If you can get all your work done in two or two-and-a-half hours, that's great. I've done two things to stop myself. I've put my whistle behind my back, and I've put it in my pocket so I couldn't blow it, but I still want to be able to verbalize."
On the schedule for this season
"I wanted to get a schedule that was competitive, but at the same time I wanted us to have success. We're going to work on the schedule as our program continues to grow. When I look at our schedule and see that we have to go on the road nine times for non-conference games, I feel that's pretty difficult. We have 16 home games with both conference and non-conference games. I wish we didn't have to go on the road so much, but that's just part of it. We have a tough road-trip right off the bat going to Louisiana Tech, but what that does is prepares us for conference play."
SENIOR FORWARD Maurice McNeil
On how practices are going
"It is going good, a lot of teaching. We are learning a lot. I am learning more every day and we are getting better as a team. We are more prepared."
On the atmosphere of the team
"We are still learning each other, learning our weaknesses and strengths. We are just trying to learn about each other and be more positive with each other and just learn."
On the biggest hurdle that needs to be crossed before regular season
"We are doing a good job with everything. Defensively we have gotten better, but we can still get better. That is the difference between winning and losing. We know that the offense won't be there all the time, but if our defense is there all the time than we will be good."
SENIOR GUARD Zamal Nixon
On the expectations of the season
"Heading into this season I just want to keep working hard and just try to better myself. I want to have the best year I could possibly have."
On being a leader on the team
"It is something I am thankful for. By Coach Dickey wanting me to be those things, that means he sees something in me. That's definitely a great feeling, and I just have to keep working every day. Just try to get better every day."
On playing for Coach Dickey
"It has been a great experience playing with him. It has been a lot of change, but change is constant, and that is going to happen to you. You just have to deal with things accordingly. I have definitely learned a lot from him in the time he has been here. I am grateful to have him as a coach. I am just thankful to keep working by him."
SENIOR GUARD Adam Brown
On what fans are going to see from the team this season
"You got a glimpse of it in the Conference USA Championship. I am a more vocal player on the court. I am more of a leader on the court. I will be more vocal, and yelling at my teammates making sure they are energized and ready to go every second of the game rather than doing it when we need it to be done. If we can do it before we get into a slump, it will be better.
You will see more aggression out of Maurice (McNeil) and Kendrick (Washington) in the post. You will see more IQ brought out from the offense from the way we have to run the offense. It's more reads than just playing basketball, so you have to know what you are doing and what you are looking for. You will see more leadership out of Zamal Nixon."
"One of the surprise player's this year will be Darian Thibodeaux. He is going to come out and shock people. People will get to see really how good he is."
On what we are going to see from Darian Thibodeaux
"He is going to be more of a knockdown shooter. Unselfishness and defense, a lot of defense."
On what newcomers have stood out in practice
"Almost everybody that has come in this year has shocked me with their talent level. That is granted to Coach Dickey because his standards and requirements bring out the best in each individual on our team. Alandise Harris is going to bring a lot of strength. He is a go-getter and a fierce rebounder. Mikhail (McLean) is one of the best defenders on the team and in conference. We have a lot more upside than downside. We have a lot more pros than cons this year."
On the defensive philosophy
"It is very important this year; it is something we lacked last year. That is a lot of the reasons why we were in close games because every night you are not going to be able to hit shots. No matter if you are a great shooter, sometimes you are going to have off nights. That is when you have to make up for it on the defensive end. You have to buckle down and defend their shots if you're not hitting shots. Our execution of Coach Dickey's defense is going to be a pleasant sight to see."
SOPHOMORE FORWARD KIRK VAN SLYKE
On the biggest hurdle they have to cross before the regular season
"Getting in game shape and learning how to play with each other. Learn everyone's weaknesses and strengths. Learn how to play together as a unit to win games. We have to know each other better. That comes with time and practice."
On how he is feeling physically
"I am doing good. I feel like I caught up. I feel like myself. I felt like myself around August."