Well, the primary thing is that we are excited to be able to get started on Friday. It was a good move by the NCAA a couple of years ago to change it from a midnight start to as early as 7 o’clock. Our ladies are going to start it off at seven. We’re going to be signing autographs starting at 7:30 and have our introductions at eight or 8:10.
We’re excited about the team. I think the team chemistry is excellent. We’ve had great leadership, especially from Ivan (Radenovic) and Mustafa (Shakur). The workouts that we’ve had, including the ones before the trip to
We will practice on Saturday, which will be a closed practice, and we’ll give them the normal Sunday off. Then we’ll get started again on Monday. I feel good about what’s going to happen in practice. We definitely an extended period of time on the court to where we can accomplish the things we want to accomplish. I look for the team to be very good defensively. We have excellent quickness and good length. So I believe the combination of the depth, the quickness and the length will give us the opportunity to be much more aggressive on the defensive end of the court. I’m talking about pick up on full, three-quarter and half-court situations.
Offensively, I felt our weakness a year ago was the consistency of our shooting. I think this team will be a good shooting team. They have shown in practice that they like giving the ball up. It’s going to be a very unselfish team. I believe it’s going to be a fun team to coach and a fun team to watch.
This last week, we’ve held Daniel Dillon out since the Canadian trip. He played extremely well up there. He did have some pain in his foot where he had the stress fracture, so just to be certain that he would be ready for the start of practice, they had him in a walking cast for a while. But he feels great. It was strictly a precautionary thing.
Jawann McClellan has now been out there for a couple of weeks in pick-up games and individual workouts. We’re anticipating that that’s going to be fine. It will be a key once we get into the regular practices to see if we get any kind of swelling or discomfort in the knee, and if that’s the case, we’ll have to adjust accordingly. (Athletic trainer) Justin Kokoskie and the medical staff will be in charge of determining that. It’s not our area of expertise, so we just leave it u to them to let us know what kind of restrictions we’re under.
Kirk Walters, in a workout setting a screen, he ended up banging heads with the guy coming off the screen. Kirk suffered a concussion and has been out for a couple of weeks, but he’s expected to be back for Friday and the first practice on Saturday.
What do you expect from Mustafa Shakur?
I think Mustafa is going to have a great year, based on what we’ve seen in the practice situations. He’s been very tough on the defensive end. He’s rebounding well, like he always had. He’s much stronger in his leadership on the floor and I think off the floor. He has done a great job of creating openings for other players.
I think that’s very much a key for Mustafa. That the same thing the NBA people told him and the same thing we’ve been telling him for the last couple of years. I think he knows from testing the waters exactly what he needs to do. The great thing about Mustafa is that he is focused on the team. He knows if the team does well, then he’s going to do well.
Do you think it was beneficial for him to test the NBA waters?
I really do. In his workouts in Orland and the other places, he was given the same message by the NBA people. I think he really soaked up what he needed to work on. I said before that he’s the hardest working kid we’ve ever had in the program. I think that work has been directed towards being the best team player he can be.
You’ve always been an up-tempo coach. How much more up-tempo can you go?
We will go as much up tempo as our opponents will allow us. Our goal is to score 70 percent or more from the break situation or what we call the early offense, where we’re getting into our half-court offense. We’re going to try to push the tempo based on what we do offensively and defensively. I think we’ll be more up tempo than what we’ve had here, at least that’s our goal.
The guys have said that they are all on the same page. Please speak to that:
As far as team chemistry, you always go into every year wondering how this is going to work out. From day one, these guys have been on the same page. They encourage, whether the guy’s on the other team or not. You just don’t see negative things happening on the court. You see everyone helping with the development of confidence in the individual players and in the team. I feel as good about that as any team we’ve had here.
It is a challenge, because of the depth, to keep everyone happy?
We’ll see as we go. The thing is and always has been here, at least with what we’ve tried to do, it’s all about team. I think there are some similarities to some teams where we’ve had five guys in double figures and no one with a big scoring average. I think that’s going to be the case here. Whoever gets the open shot is going to take the open shot and I think we’re capable of hitting those shots.
Ivan Radenovic is a guy who has kid of flown under the radar. Talk about him:
I think he had a great year last year. His freshman year was a struggle being in a foreign country, learning the language. The biggest single problem he had that year was getting used to the speed and tempo of how we played and the quickness of the players he was playing against. It would not be a very fun thing to come out every day against Andre Iguodala or Hassan Adams. You play against those guys and you have to learn to shoot and duck at the same time (laughter). By the next year, he had made good adjustments to that. I felt last year that he played really well for us. From a coaching standpoint, we were very happy with him. Some games he scored better than others. I look more at how did he play. I’m not one that gets into the points determining how well a guy plays.
What do you think Marcus Williams learned about himself in the time leading up to the draft?
The interesting thing was that there was a lot of speculation surrounding Marcus, but he never did put his name out for the draft. He weighed everything, and in the end, I think he knew that he needed one more year of maturity and that he needed to be more consistent. I think he needed to work at becoming a leader rather than a follower, which you generally are as a freshman.
I was impressed with how he weighed everything before he made that decision. There is a tremendous amount of pressure on young people when the money is big. We tried to provide with as much information as we could. That decision is never up to us. That decision is up to the young man and his parents. In the end, I felt like his mom felt like he needed another year strength-wise and everything else. The difference in his confidence right now compared to last year is like night and day.
How is his leadership developing?
He’s encouraging guys. As a freshman, usually you just come in and try to see how the game is played and what you need to do. I’ve always said that the most improvement you see in our players is between their freshman and sophomore years because they come in as freshmen, and they have no clue what the college game is like. When they finish that freshman season they know exactly what to work on in the offseason. I think he’s made really good progress in a lot of different ways. He’s going to have an outstanding season.
What is the one thing Marcus needs to guard against?
The biggest thing is that he doesn’t try to do too much. We don’t need anyone to try to do too much. It’s ok for him to do too much defensively and too much on the boards and running the court. I don’t want him to feel like he has to do too much from a scoring standpoint.
What’s most impressive about Chase Budinger?
The thing that’s so impressive about Chase physically is that he does things with such ease. It doesn’t look like it’s an effort for him to sprint the court. He jumps very easily. The other thing that’s great about him is that he’s a team guy. If you ask him whether he’d rather score the bucket or make the assist, I’m convinced he’d rather make the assist. What a great example that is to the other players.
When he was on the floor up in
Chase can play, basically, where ever you need to have him play. His biggest adjustment will be what every freshman has to make. That’s defensively, you’ll have to play against the quickest players you’ve ever played against in your life. The other thing is that you aren’t going to get uncontested shots anymore like you did in high school. That’s one of the things he’s going to have to improve. He’s going to have to be ready to explode into the shot the moment he catches the ball. He and Marcus have been going against each other. There is no question that Marcus is making it difficult for him to get good looks. What a great opportunity for improvement every day when you’re coming out and you’ve got a guy that’s going to be in your face. It’s also great for Marcus because he takes it as a real challenge to make it hard for Chase.
Talk about Mohamed Tangara’s progress?
Mohamed’s game has improved a lot...his touch, his footwork. He’s very, very aggressive defensively. He’s learning how to defend without fouling. I’m not saying it’s there yet, but I’d say it’s improved a lot. I’d say his touch and limiting his fouls are the biggest differences in his game.
(On his trip home to
Jordan Hill gives you more flexibility, right?
Did having the
I think it did jump start us. I think it’s helped the younger guys in terms of what they’ve done when they had their pick-up games. I also think it helped to establish the leadership from the upperclassmen and they’ve been able to help the help the young guys with. The upperclassmen have been able to communicate on a different level and the freshmen have a much better idea of what’s going on.
What do you hope to get out of the next month?
To see who plays the best together. Just to see their development as we go through the practice situations. I’m excited to start practice. I’m excited for these guys to have the kind of competition that they’ll have in practice. I’m excited about the depth. Sometimes the depth has not been there to put each guy in a really competitive situation everyday out there. This year we can put a guy in a really competitive situation every day.