We’re in the dog days of summer or at least what feels like the doldrums of the college basketball calendar – even though the official start of practice is right around the corner. At the University of Rhode Island, there’s been transition over the past few months as new head coach David Cox settles into the driver’s seat of what’s now his program. Two summer sessions are in the books and attention begins to pivot towards the season and the promise of a largely youthful roster. With that, here’s a list of questions and thoughts on my mind these days:
- Calling all shot-clock players. In an interview with new assistant coach Kevin Sutton earlier this summer he mentioned that the recent Rams teams had several “shot-clock players” – guys who could step up and make big plays at big moments, whether on the offensive or defensive side of the ball. Love the phrase. That’s the treat of getting old and staying old (for a while anyway). Now, Jeff Dowtin is already an established shot-clock guy, carrying this team on multiple occasions down the stretch and particularly in the Atlantic 10 Tournament last year. Fatts Russell, with more minutes, seems poised to join him. But who else? Can Cyril Langevine become a high production, difference-maker? Will Christion Thompson – more on him in a moment – seize the jack-of-all-trades role and engineer winning plays for this team? Among the freshmen, who will adjust quickly and get older, faster? Who might emerge as a reliable third scorer?
- Adjustments. Veterans possess the intangibles, the knowledge, and the feel to work the shot clock and pick and choose spots to attack. They can be deliberate in hunting for scoring opportunities. This Rams team is different. Still talented, but quite youthful. As a result, Coach Cox will want to put these guys in positions to attack and score earlier in the shot-clock – having freshmen with the ball in their hands in late shot-clock situations isn’t a customary recipe for success. Sure, Dowtin will remain the orchestrator and anchor, but the kids are gonna play folks – and Cox will make sure he’s putting them in positions for quick-strike opportunities as opposed to drawn out sets where the propensity for mental and execution errors increases.
- The “Stan” role. Christion Thompson spent last season rehabbing from a right knee injury and observing from the sidelines. He returns to a team in need of upperclassmen leaders and is primed to fill the void – at least in part – left by the graduation of Stan Robinson. It’s a tall order to follow Robinson. In many respects Robinson’s impact won’t have been truly appreciated by the masses until this season when we gain a greater appreciation – game after game – of what he did so consistently: draw charges, make clutch shots (Duquesne?), rebound from the guard spot, mark skilled forwards, and more. Thompson, however, has the length, team-first attitude, athleticism and quickness to play a vital role and impact winning for this program. The opportunity is right in front of him.
- Room to breathe. I love writing snippets about floor spacing. Yes, it’s a problem that I willingly admit. But, with graduations each year, coaches are presented with the challenge of how best to position new personnel to succeed. This year, Dowtin, a terrific conductor, returns as the most crucial element to half court success. And Russell provides microwave scorer’s ability on that side. But there’s no established back to the basket presence (though it’s worth noting there wasn’t last year at this time either). So, as food for thought, don’t underestimate the importance of contributions – big or small – by freshmen like Tyrese Martin and Omar Silverio – both plus shooters – to the success rate in the half court. Cox needs these perimeter threats to emerge (Thompson also) to help create seams and free up space for others to operate.
- Can’t win if you don’t play. One of the consistently remarkable feats of Phil Martelli’s Saint Joe’s teams is their positional defensive play and knack for playing sound defense without fouling. How these Rams develop on that side of the ball is worth watching. Particularly in the frontcourt, Langevine’s balance of aggressiveness and responsibility on the defensive side will loom large. They’ll need 30+ minutes nightly from the big fella (as he helps mentor Jermaine Harris and Dana Tate), along with Fatts and JD providing their same level of disruption out high.
What do you think? Hit me up – as the kids say, or maybe as they said in 2010 – on Twitter @CDiSano44.