News From Terre Haute, Indiana

August 1, 2012

Cooking Sycamores: ISU hones raw material over summer

Todd Golden
The Tribune-Star

TERRE HAUTE — Imagine you’re preparing a meal.

You have all of the ingredients in front of you to make something really appetizing. But do you have the ability to put the raw materials together to make it work? Or will those raw materials be wasted?

That moment when you begin to try and put it all together is exciting and daunting all at once. That is where the Indiana State men’s basketball team is right now as it prepares for an exhibition trip to the Bahamas later this month.

The Sycamores have eight scholarship players — Manny Arop, Devonte Brown, Brandon Burnett, Khristian Smith, Michael Samuels, T.J. Bell, Dawon Cummings and Rhett Smith — on the roster who have never played a single minute in ISU blue.

Of those eight, five (both Smiths, Samuels, Bell and Cummings) experienced their first official Division I practice action on Monday. ISU is allowed to practice for the next two weeks in preparation for its trip to the Bahamas. The team departs on Aug. 11 for the four-day, three-game trip.

ISU had its second practice on Tuesday at ISU Arena. Indoctrination is the modus operandi. Things like learning the offense and defense and building on-floor chemistry with teammates are obviously paramount, but the advantage of the summer practices is that the new players can also get an early taste of playing the speed that ISU coach Greg Lansing wants the Sycamores to play at.

As one might expect out of two official practices, that speed has been a killer for some of the new players.

“We do have a lot of new parts. We have a long way to go. We try to establish a really fast pace and that creates havoc when it’s really early on like this. So far, the effort is what we want, we just have to tighten up a lot of things,” Lansing said.

Swingman Khristian Smith, who could not participate in practices last season due to academic ineligibility, admitted that getting into a practice flow in these early stages has had its rough spots, but the team isn’t coming in completely cold. Due to a NCAA rule change, teams have been allowed to have two hours of time with their coaches.

“The team workouts in June helped a lot. We’re young and inexperienced. It’s good for us to have this jump-start. It’s better than trying to get started in October,” Khristian Smith said.

The ISU veteran players see a lot of potential in the new Sycamores. The slate is clean. It’s a group that has everything ahead of it, but has proven nothing.

“We see the potential, we know we can get there, it just takes the investment of time in the gym. We have to hang together and build that bond as a group. That’s when we’ll start taking off,” ISU point guard Jake Odum said.

There’s a benefit to having a young roster — few of the players have any preconceived notion of a role or minutes they expect to play. There’s a hunger that has given ISU’s practices more intensity.

Odum welcomes it. He admitted it was a component that was missing from last year’s veteran team, where roles were more established and defined.

“The good thing about inexperience is that we compete harder. Competing in practice is what elevates everyone’s game. We kind of fell off a bit last year because we had four seniors that were going to play 25 minutes a game and the same with me,” Odum noted. “That’s what’s good about this group coming in, they’re trying to earn minutes, so they’re pushing everybody. That competitive nature will help us.”

n Eitel given athletic scholarship — Junior guard Lucas Eitel — who came to ISU as a Presidential Scholar — has been a dutiful walk-on at ISU for three seasons. On Monday, Lansing decided to reward Eitel with an athletic scholarship.

ISU had one open scholarship for the 2012-13 season. Eitel became a candidate for it when it was discovered that his Presidential Scholarship only covered four years of school. Since Eitel was redshirted in 2009-10, he will be at ISU for five years.

Eitel will use the athletic scholarship during the 2012-13 season. For his senior year in 2013-14, Eitel will revert to his Presidential Scholarship.

“We didn’t want him to have to pay for the year. I consider him just like anyone else. He’s not a walk-on, I’ve considered him like a scholarship player from the time he’s been here. Giving him the scholarship is just icing on the cake,” Lansing said.

Lansing noted that Eitel didn’t wait to be bestowed with an athletic scholarship … he sought it out.

“What I like about Lucas is that he asked for it. He doesn’t sit and wait for the coaches to pat him on the back. He said, ‘I want this scholarship, I think I’ve earned this.’ He’s earned it,” Lansing said.

Eitel was honored that Lansing saw it that way.

“It’s a huge, huge plus for me to have a scholarship. I’ve worked hard to get my academic scholarship, but I’ve been fortunate that the pieces have fallen together for me to have [an athletic scholarship] too. Coach Lansing was a good enough guy to reward me for my hard work,” Eitel said.