TERRE HAUTE —
Last Friday was the official first day of practice for NCAA men’s basketball teams, but what was once the festive lidlifter for the hoops season has become a formality more than a true starting point.
The NCAA changed offseason rules and allowed contact between coaches and players who were enrolled in summer classes. Moreover, two hours-a-week of contact was allowed after Sept. 15.
This was true for every team, but for Indiana State, it’s even more so. Because ISU participated in a Bahamas’ trip in August, the Sycamores got to practice 10 times in preparation for their foreign trip.
The bottom line? ISU’s coaches and players are a lot more familiar with each other than they would have been in past seasons. Given that, ISU coach Greg Lansing was able to tweak the way he approaches ISU’s early preseason practices, the fifth of which took place on Wednesday.
“We ran basic stuff in the Bahamas, but now we’re advancing. We’re more into the offensive scheme and we’re doing more 5-on-5. Defensively? We didn’t do tons of breakdown before the Bahamas. Now? We’re teaching them the breakdown things of how we’re going to guard. By game and by opponent,” Lansing said.
ISU sophomore center Jake Kitchell, who is cycling through his third preseason practice regimen, is convinced the summer practice time has influenced preseason practices so far.
“When I first came into practice, it was a whole different world. I think getting that taste in the summer? They knew what was coming and they were better prepared for it,” said ISU center Jake Kitchell, who had a sizable shiner on his left eye.
Though ISU treated those early practice periods like gold, the Sycamores are still an inexperienced team and far from a finished product. Seven Sycamores on the floor Wednesday have never played a minute in an ISU uniform. That doesn’t count junior college center Mike Samuels, who is out with a broken foot.
The enemy at ISU’s gate right now is injuries that have made it a challenge just to have enough bodies to practice. The most serious occurred last Friday when forward R.J. Mahurin suffered a concussion. He has not returned to practice and won’t until he passes a concussion test. It’s the second career concussion Mahurin has suffered.
Mahurin isn’t the only banged-up Sycamore. Manny Arop missed practice Wednesday. The Gonzaga transfer has stitches inside his mouth after an earlier practice incident.
In addition to his eye, Kitchell has a groin injury. Justin Gant has a sore hamstring, Jake Odum has a hip flexor, T.J. Bell suffered a chipped tooth, and Khristian Smith has turf toe, a malady that will likely dog Smith for the remainder of the season.
All but Mahurin and Arop practiced Wednesday, but all are sore.
“There hasn’t been a day gone by that we haven’t had somebody going out with something bleeding or somebody not finishing practice,” Lansing said.
To provide enough bodies to keep practice productive, Lansing had several walk-ons in Hulman Center Wednesday as well as former players Aaron Carter and Logan Eitel.
“It’s unfortunate we have some guys out, but later on in the season, we’ll have injuries and we’ll have guys out. It’s kind of a test for us. It’s good to fight through it,” Odum said.