It was a long, hot summer for college basketball fans, and it seems to
have finally released its grip. School opened and the nights became chilly
and that's fine. The start of the NFL season was exciting, but only for
the purpose of signalling that the basketball season was nearing. I have
no use for the actual NFL.
Media day, and Midnight Madness and the start of practice really didn't
help matters, not like we all thought. It reminds me of the long run up
to Halloween when you were a kid. You got all jazzed up and dressed up
and trick-or-treated for three hours and came home with a pillowcase full
And mom let you have one stinking mini-Snickers, because it was a school
night. You had to wait for the rest.
I know your pain. So to quench the neverending thirst for VCU hoops, at
least for now, I called Will Wade to find out exactly what happens between
the start of practice and tipoff on November 1.
"We put in the building blocks of what we want to do," Wade says.
"For example, we introduce pieces of the press and pieces of the offense.
It's more concepts than absolutes. We want to get them bought in to the
concepts and then show them how it all fits together as we get closer to
It's about building, Wade described, bringing the kids along so that it
all comes together by the time Virginia Union for real, and then Florida
Gulf Coast for real-real, visit The Stu. It makes perfect sense. An underrated
facet to the way VCU plays is proper positioning. It's important to know
where to trap, how to trap, and the passing lanes to clog. It's all a process.
"Early on we'll teach them to jump to the ball, then teach them about
interchanges, then guarding to the line," says Wade in his best coach
speak. "We will build it up."
It's also the havoc in half court–where to blitz a ball handler, weak side defense, those concepts. We saw
Shaka trot out some spot zone defense last season. Those principles are
taught. It's learning the offense and finding option A and then counters
when defenses try to take away your strengths.
Early season practice also means drills, the foundation and fundamentals
that beget success. You know the stations: rebounding, ball handling, defending,
shooting. These basics are interspersed into the swift-moving practice.
Even those seemingly mundane tasks are important, and designed to be part
of a building process.
"We're looking for consistent energy, effort, and enthusiasm,"
says Wade. "We do a lot of station work in the preseason, working
through specific drills. (A good example) is guarding a flex screen. Once
the season starts we won't do stations, but when we're preparing for someone
like Towson who runs the flex screen, we will be able to say 'go guard
(Basketball geek note: the flex screen is familiar to you. It's basically
the play where the point guard passes the ball to a big man in the high
post and goes to set a screen. The player he screens for comes to the high
post and takes a handoff from the big man. Once he takes the handoff he
can shoot, drive the lane to pass or attack the rim. It's more complicated
than that, but I don't have to coach it and you don't have to run it. Sitting in the stands, I call it the handoff play.)
So we've been practicing for keeps since last week, but the kids have been
working hard all summer. You've seen the Seal team videos and other
assorted fitness training from The Daniel Roose Experience. I don't
know specifics measurements and such, but I can tell you this–the difference
in this year's team and last year's team, physically, is striking. The
best word I can muster: sturdy.
They're going to need it. The A10 is a much, much more physical league.
There are 10 Drexels. The encouraging thing is that the kids look the part,
but are still fast and long and that's important. In the havoc style, you
have to be difficult to throw the ball around or over. A bonus this year:
for the most part everybody has been through the preseason for a year.
They know the expectations.
That allows Smart to conduct a more focused practice. And if you're more
focused, you get more done. I've been fortunate to attend practices for
several teams, and I can tell you this: nobody comes close to the speed
and crispness of a Shaka Smart practice.
Havoc is habit wrapped in chaos,
something the team does every time it steps on the floor. They do it the
same way but differently every time. By instilling habits now, the chaos is allowed to blossom when the games start.
And that's kind of like this season. It's going to be the same, but very
different. Now can November 1 just get here already?