As they head into their final two weeks of practice before their exhibition opener against Regis on Nov. 1, the CSU men’s basketball team cannot help but look forward to finally getting to play someone not wearing green and gold.
With the NCAA rule change to allow teams to practice two weeks earlier than previous years, the Rams have been going at it for a little more than a month and players are more than ready to see a different team on the opposing bench.
“We’ve been here all summer and into the fall playing against the same guys, so it’ll be fun to get out there against another team. We all know each other’s strengths and tendencies by now so it’ll feel good to look across and see different jerseys,” freshman David Cohn said.
Although playing against their own teammates for the better part of a month has taken its toll on players, the extra time together has paid major dividends for a team returning only five players from last season.
While last year’s team began the year with a veteran senior class, this year’s group will have to learn to coexist on the fly without any returning starters. With that inexperience, the two extra weeks has given the Rams time to adjust to head coach Larry Eustachy’s up-tempo, defensive style of basketball as well as helping players to learn what their role will be on this year’s squad.
“It’s really allowed guys to figure out their roles, we have a lot of new guys and guys who didn’t play very many minutes last year but it’s also been good to have those two weeks for everyone to get accustomed to coach Eustachy’s style,” junior Jon Octeus said.
For a team with nine new players in total, extra time on the floor has helped immensely to build chemistry in a team who has officially practiced together for less than a month. The motto of this year’s program is “Team Together,” something the Rams have bought into in hopes of securing their fifth consecutive postseason bid and third straight trip to the NCAA Tournament.
How this team plays together will be a telling sign of the success they can expect after returning less than 25 percent of their overall scoring from last year. One of the biggest differences for this year’s squad will be a huge emphasis on defense after finishing 101st in the country last year in scoring defense. Players and coaches alike believe that the extra practices increased learning the in-your-face style of play Eustachy is known for.
“It’s benefitted us a lot. Coach Eustachy expects us to be very detail-oriented on the defensive end, and for new players that can be hard to adjust to, but this time has helped the younger guys to understand what Coach is throwing at us,” Octeus said.
For Eustachy and his staff, instilling the work ethic and toughness necessary for a possible return to the post-season has been a challenge at times, but Eustachy has been impressed overall with how quickly his team is adapting to his style of play.
“With last year’s team we could have thrown them out there at the beginning of the season to compete against the best teams in the country. This year’s team isn’t anywhere near ready for that, but we’ve got a lot of sharp, high-character guys that are learning quicker than any team I’ve had,” Eustachy said.
The Rams open their 2013-14 season with their lone exhibition match-up next Saturday against Regis at Moby Arena. Tipoff is at 2 p.m.
Basketball reporter Keegan Pope can be reached at email@example.com or on Twitter @kpopecollegian.