__College returns 11 players, nine key contributors from last year’s 15-15 squad__
With four starters and five key contributors returning, Tribe practices are off to a relatively smooth start. In just a week of practice, the competition for playing time is apparent and so is the experience of the team.
p. “No question, it’s been the best five or six days that we’ve had since I’ve been at William and Mary,” Head Coach Tony Shaver said.
p. Shaver credits a strong offseason of work from his players, an abundance of upperclassmen and a familiar style of play as reasons practice is off to a solid start.
p. “For the first time since I’ve been here, our defense is going to be basically the same. Our offense is going to be basically the same,” Shaver said. “We’ve got 11 guys returning that know what we’re doing on day one. They can help the freshman learn.”
p. The only hiccup so far in practice has been some players missing time due to injury. Two players who have seen limited practice time are junior transfer Sean McCurdy (who is ineligible to play until the 2008 to 2009 season due to NCAA transfer rules) and freshman guard John Sexton. McCurdy has a small fracture in his foot and has yet to practice, while Sexton has a knee injury that has kept him off the floor. Junior forward Alex Smith sat out Thursday’s practice with a migraine, but Shaver noted that these players do not face long-term problems, although Sexton’s knee drew the most concern from Shaver. The Tribe also lost sophomore guard Matt McFadden who made a decision to leave the team.
p. Nevertheless, with the bulk of the team participating in practice, the competition for playing time is strong early and two junior forwards Chris Darnell and Alex Smith have already shown marked improvement from last year.
p. “Chris Darnell has made tremendous strides as a player,” Shaver said. “He’s simply put himself in the forefront as one of our best players right now in the first week of practice.”
p. Smith developed his game over the summer while playing for the Panamanian National Team in the Pan American Games and in the FIBA Americas Championship. Those experiences have added maturity and confidence to his game in addition to helping him slim down.
p. “Physically, if you look at him, he’s lost weight – which is a good thing,” Shaver said. “Alex has always had a little bit of an issue with stamina. Losing weight and playing a lot of basketball this summer, his stamina is different right now, so we certainly hope to keep him on the floor for more minutes.”
p. In addition to the improvement of returning players, the College has three freshmen learning the system and vying for playing time. In addition to Sexton, freshmen Marcus Kitts and Vali Lazarescu bolster the Tribe’s depth.
p. “On paper it’s a very good class,” Shaver said. “These guys are good players and several we think will be factors this year, but they’re going to have to really be good to break into the lineup and that’s what you want.”
p. The freshmen highlight one obvious transition that occurs each season as they learn the ins-and-outs of college basketball, but an equally important transition involves the maturation of seniors into leaders. This season’s captains – Laimis Kisielius and Nathan Mann – continue to adapt to this new role and must fill the void left by Adam Payton and Adam Trumbower.
p. “They’re both guys you can count on doing the right thing everyday and playing hard everyday,” Shaver said. “But they have to learn to take over a little bit more of a vocal role with this team and that takes a little time.”
p. With emerging leaders, intense competition for playing time, and new faces, the Tribe will face a stiff test when it opens its season on the road at Georgetown University Nov. 10.
p. “I think it motivates you in the offseason,” Shaver said. “We told our guys last spring that every time you get a little tired and don’t want to go to the weight room or you don’t want to take some extra shots, think about Georgetown on that opening game.”
p. Until then the College will continue practicing before a scheduled exhibition game with Saint Andrews Presbyterian College Nov. 6.