HOUGHTON - You must walk before you can run; run before you can jump and jump before you can dunk.
And that is pretty much the rate of progression Michigan Tech basketball coaches Kim Cameron and Kevin Luke are dealing with after the basketball season officially opened with the first full practice of the year Monday. With the men's and women's Husky hoop squads hitting the gym for two hours, there was everything you would expect from the first practice. Lots of energy and lots of rough edges.
"Wooh, don't base your judgments on what you saw today," Luke said. "The effort was good. We weren't that smart. But the energy to play hard is exciting and now we have to get the play, play, play hard part to be smarter, take care of the basketball and do the things that we are capable of doing."
Matt Esters challenges Ali Haidar on a drive during the first day of practice for Michigan Tech’s men’s basketball team Monday at the SDC?Gym. (DMG photo by Michael Bleach)
Both coaches started their session with some extensive full-court work, and both wanted to test the conditioning of their players early on.
Cameron in particular pushed her team to the limit with their "nine-minute drill," a defensive exercise that works on off-ball positioning and ball denial with activity for nine straight minutes. And any player not going after the ball hard in the end-of-practice rebounding drill was sure to get an earful.
"They are not there yet, that's obvious enough. But they are in good enough shape to practice and now practice has to turn into game shape," Luke said.
"The first day it is just fun to challenge them and see where they are at," Cameron added. "But I expect them to be in great shape. They have offseason programs set up with a strength and conditioning coach, and they should come here ready to play."
For those high school or grade school coaches hoping to pick up some defensive tips, the time to come to practice is this week.
Neither team practiced any offensive sets the first day, and the women's team especially emphasized the defensive fundamentals.
Cameron told her team multiple times during practice she wasn't pleased with last year's defensive showing and they were going to change that starting Monday.
"We start very simple and then we work our way up," Cameron said. "It is a lot easier to move faster when you have an older team like we do (with only two new freshmen). But we have to prove we have the basics mastered again before we start on the offensive progressions.
"Even in the little things like our defensive rotations, it is amazing how much stuff you have to teach them in a short time period."
The men will first take the floor against an opponent for an exhibition with Finlandia Nov. 7 before starting for real a week later at Southwest Minnesota State. The women will travel to Green Bay for an exhibition with UWGB Nov. 3 and host their first game of the season Nov. 10 with Concordia-St. Paul coming to the SDC.
In between then, the freshmen will be given three crucial weeks to impress the coaches enough to earn a spot in the rotation or the decision to redshirt their first year at Tech.
The early suggestions for the men's team - with an emphasis on early - are that Luke Heller and James Wezensky will play, while Jeff Gregory (a walk-on from Kingsford) and Nicholas Stoll will redshirt. Freshman Michael Fisher will definitely redshirt, as he recently had surgery on his foot and has not yet been cleared to play.
"Right now, it is looking like Luke (Heller) and James Wezensky are going to be backing up our big guys," Luke said. "That's what it's looking like right now. But that is a discussion we have as a staff with the kid and his parents. That is always a tough one."