For those of you who are on Blue Sky, Instagram, or those who are voracious readers of every article on this site, then you already know that I was at the Marquette men’s basketball open practice on October 18. I’ve got three pages of notes to review with you here to give y’all an idea of what went on at practice. Let’s get to it, and I’ll just run through this stream of consciousness/bullet point style.
- The announcement was that doors opened at 5:30 and the attached parking garage was available for $6. Cool. I parked and got out of my car around 5:40, and I was in the arena around 5:50. More than enough time to catch the start of practice sitting comfortably.... or so I thought. The team was already on the court, and Shaka Smart and the coaching staff were running the players through drills. This was not “slightly goof-around-ish warmup” stuff, they were going full speed with the drills. The drills were relatively simple shell drills, instilling the muscle memory on Marquette’s core offensive components. Remember when Kam Jones tweeted “we were just hoopin’” last year? Yeah, this is how they learn to do that stuff without running defined plays. Shaka was overseeing a Pick & Pop drill on one side, Nevada Smith was minding a sideline switch to get a far side open corner three, and in that case, it seems like the timing on a cut to the rim by a fourth guy was crucial.
- The team was split up into Blue and Gold practice jerseys, and as Shaka Smart would explain later, this is a permanent division for practice all season long. The team competes every day in practice with the same teammates, and they’re tracking wins on every competitive drill that they do. Blue Team: Tre Norman, Oso Ighodaro, David Joplin, Stevie Mitchell, Zaide Lowery, and Caedin Hamilton. Gold Team: Tyler Kolek, Kam Jones, Sean Jones, Ben Gold (I wonder how much thought was put into whether Gold should be on the Gold Team), Chase Ross, and Al Amadou.
- The next warmup drill was a two-on-two drill, and the whole team combined up for this one. It seemed like the idea was that the ball can not stop moving, whether that’s by dribble or not, and defending was definitely celebrated more by the teammates than scoring.
- As we would later find out, Blue Team won the drill, so they get a water break while Gold Team had to do a down and back dribble and the entire coaching staff did pushups.
- Another set of shell drills, this time with Neill Berry minding the shop on a Pick & Pop to drive not shoot drill with the forwards, while Nevada Smith was doing top of the key exchange drills with the guards. While this was going on, Shaka welcomed us to practice, explained the basic concepts of what they’re doing in practice every day, and pointing out all of the newcomers. Definitely a jovial bent to Smart’s commentary to the crowd all night, noting that the team is on the lookout to get more food for Amadou, and “before long, he’s going to look like #13 (Ighodaro) over there.”
- First drill after the intro was a 4 on 3 drill, making three guys defend four, because off balance numbers happens a lot in a basketball game and you have to be ready to figure it out on the fly. If a drill gets lopsided — in this case, Blue Team scored 13 straight points — the coaches will just blow the drill dead and that’s a down-and-back for the losing team.
- Next up: 80-80. They set the scoreboard to a tie game at 80 points each, and when one team hit 85, then there was two minutes left to play in the game. Same as 4-on-3, finding ways to keep practice constantly shifting but also repping game situations. Gold Team ended up with a notable lead with just seconds left, so Shaka cheated the game as Ighodaro was shooting free throws. 91-90 Gold instead of the five or six point lead that they had, thus making it a game tying free throw. He made it, Sean Jones missed a layup on the other end, Mitchell missed a prayer at the horn.
- Next up: This drill went unnamed, but it was something of a transition drill with the offensive player holding the ball at the backcourt free throw line and two defenders converging on him there to try to force a turnover.
- Next: 30 baskets. Very simple concept here: First team to hit 30 three-pointers wins. The catch here is that everyone has to shout out the number of the makes as they go down. Practicing shooting and communicating at the same time, and with five guys shooting threes at once and rotating through the around the world spots on the court, it goes pretty quickly.
- Next: Style Of Play. 3 minutes on the clock, if you don’t sprint in transition or don’t keep a stance on defense, the drill’s blown dead, that’s a win for the other team, and the drill starts over until they make it the full three minutes. Eventually this ended with Blue Team recording six straight stops on the Gold Team. That’s two consecutive kills, and the team calls that a skunk. Two kills would be 25% of the team’s goal for an entire game, and getting 25% in a roughly six minute window would be pretty good for their chances of winning the ball game. This is the drill where Kolek ended up diving on a loose ball on the ground, and after the whistle went, he popped up and IMMEDIATELY got in Ighodaro’s face about something. Not “we’re going to fight now” in his face, but “that won’t be tolerated here” in his face. Immediately after that, Ighodaro had a hard close out on a Kam three-pointer — and he clearly trucked him to the ground and I’m pretty sure Kam gets the foul call in a game — and not only did Kolek fly over to pull his Gold teammate up off the ground, but he also gave Ighodaro an big ol’ “that’s what I’m f*****g talking about” pat on the butt, too. The JS photog at the game actually caught the moment of Kolek confronting Ighodaro.
- Next: 30 baskets again.
- Next: Oso vs Kam in a free throw battle. If Oso makes five straight free throws, alternating back and forth — think of it like penalty kicks in the World Cup — then practice is over because Blue Team’s got the lead in wins for the night. Kam wins though, and practice continues.
- Next: Make It/Take It. Five on five, stays on one side of the court, Shaka’s coaching up the offense before every drill. This included a possession where he made the play call, switched on his mic, and said “We’re lucky to have a 6’10” guy on our team who can do this.” Cue Ighodaro starting the possession with the ball at the top of the key, going hard to the rack, and hammering down a dunk.
- Gold Team ends up with the win there, so that means another round of 30 Baskets to break a 12-12 tie and end practice for real this time.
- The evening wraps up with a Q&A session, with Shaka bringing out each of the scholarship players for one question each. I’m not exactly sure how the team got all the questions, Shaka said they were submitted by fans, and also not all of the questions sent in will get used, particularly because some of them “were not PG-rated.” If you let your mind wander with that, Shaka went ahead and drew it into more obvious relief later. When it was Ben Gold’s turn, Shaka made it very clear that some of the thrown out questions were pointed in Ben’s direction, saying “let’s say that some people are very interested in Ben.”
- Other than raising everyone’s eyebrows at what freaky things were sent in regarding Gold, the highlight of the Q&A was Caedin Hamilton’s turn. Hamilton’s from California, and only arrived on campus in August. The weather in Santa Maria on Thursday as I type this? Currently 73 degrees, high of 74, low of 53. Shaka notes that there were rumors of Hamilton wearing a coat — not jacket, coat — on campus already, and Hamilton jumps the gun. He wholeheartedly admits it, noting it was just hot out so recently and now it’s “crazy cold.” Lows this week are in the 40s. Asking him about the coat was not Hamilton’s question. The question is “are you ready for winter in Milwaukee?” The answer, very quickly, no hesitation, but still said in a way that he knows he’s going to get a laugh when he says it: “No.”
- The event wrapped up with Smart saying that he was looking forward to seeing everyone in the building at the opener against Northern Illinois on November 6th, and also if you have tickets but can not make it, be sure to get those tickets to someone who will use them. Smart said that they believe that if you just come watch this team and how they play once, you’ll want to keep coming back to see them again. Given the high octane, high energy, tough minded, dunks and threes and deflections style that Smart is favoring, it’s hard to disagree with his philosophy there.
The only other thing I’ll mention is that after pictures made it online showing Kam Jones in a wrist brace and after he had it taped up at the open scrimmage the other day, Jones’ wrist was not taped up at all on Wednesday night.
Were you at the practice? Do you have a question about practice? Fire off whatever you’ve got in the comments section.