NASHVILLE --- The Tennessee State men’s basketball team is now in its second full week of practice in preparation for the 2016-17 season. Here are three observations from practice this week.
1. Defense is Still a Priority
From closeouts to defensive rebounding drills to defensive shell drills, much of TSU’s early-season practices have focused on defense. At Head Coach Dana Ford’s introductory press conference on April 21, 2014, he promised his players would “defend with their hair on fire and rebound like mad men.” That vision came to fruition last season as the Tigers led the Ohio Valley Conference in field goal percentage defense (.413) and were second in scoring defense (68.8 points per game).
“I think it’s something that we try to hang our hats on,” Ford said. “Last year’s team bought into the defensive philosophy. There are still some areas in terms of program-wise that we’d like to tighten up, which is one of the reasons we went out and tried to get bigger. Rebounding is something that we’ve got to get better at, but I think the guys are trying. It’s new for the newcomers, but I think we can put it together to the point where we’re defending right on pace with last year’s team."
2. The Off-Season Conditioning Program Worked
Just two weeks into practices it is clear that the Tigers are fit. Practices are intense with drills at game speed and some, including fast-break offense and defense, are full court.
Working under the direction of Coordinator of Strength and Conditioning TJ Greenstone and Assistant Strength and Conditioning Coach Tersoo Uhaa, the Tigers got a head start on conditioning this summer, and it has paid off. Maintaining intensity throughout practice is a testament to the work put in by the players, coaching staff and strength and conditioning staff during the offseason.
“I think our strength and conditioning staff does a good job of putting plans together,” Ford commented. “At the end of the day, you have to individually push yourself. I like the conditioning of a lot of our guys. I think overall as a unit, we don’t seem to be sucking wind. It’s not so much about being in shape, but being able to sustain it all year long and finish a lot stronger than we did last year.”
3. The Newcomers are Catching on Quickly
Six players on the 2016-17 team are in their first season on campus. The coaching staff has leaned on veterans like Tahjere McCall, Wayne Martin and Darreon Reddick to help the newcomers understand the flow of practice and what the coaches are looking for with different drills. So far, the newcomers are picking up information quickly, helping to make practice more seamless.
“I think the older guys are really helping a lot with bringing the newcomers along," Ford said. "If the new guys are good followers, I think we’ll be ok because I think we have good leadership. When you’re new, there’s a learning curve. Once our new guys figure out how we do things here, that’s really going to help them in terms of playing time and things of that nature. It will open up the door for them to step in and see what they can do.”