COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. -- After the morning cutdown to a group of 16 players fighting for the 12 roster spots available on the World University Games team, the afternoon practice here on Wednesday was much more conventional. After four prior sessions almost exclusively of open runs, the smaller group finally got some insights into how Bob McKillop and his staff want the team to play.
Predictably, with some better structure, play was more fluid than in previous sessions. Perimeter shooting, which was extremely spotty in the earlier practices, was more consistent and the right guys were getting the ball in better spots. McKillop repeatedly lectured the group on attacking space, both in the full court and half court, and using movement in the half court to create space into which your teammate can attack.
The remaining players, some of the most talented returnees in the nation, seemed to be taking well to a new voice teaching some different methods than they regularly get with their programs.
“They’ve been really teaching us. We know it’s not going to be a walk in the park going to Russia, and we’re all competing for a spot, but at the end of the day, we’re all here really to learn,” said Cincinnati rising senior Sean Kilpatrick. “That’s something I’m taking heed of, because I can take it back to Cincinnati as well.”
The other emphasis was having the big man on the floor bust it down the court and assume deep position almost directly under the rim, if possible. Early in the practice, McKillop reinforced the concept by showing Michigan State senior-to-be Adreian Payne how deep and central in the lane he wants his bigs to establish position, noting that “if you get a 3-second violation, that’s on me.”
That should be music to the ears of any physical big man, of which there are several remaining on the provisional roster.
“They want us to take a lot of space in the post, and stay down low and fight for position,” Payne said after the session. “That’s good because mentally, it gives us confidence to be able to stay in the post and fight longer.”
The group looks like it has a good amount of camaraderie and spirit. The practice had a high tempo to go with the quality you get when a bunch of high-caliber players come together. It will be interesting to see how the team develops over the next few days as the staff continues to put in more concepts and ultimately makes a decision on which 12 get to go to Russia next week, but it’s already been a positive experience for the guys who have made it this far.
“It’s fun just competing,” said Duke rising sophomore Rodney Hood, who sat out the 2012-13 campaign after transferring from Mississippi State. “I was playing against the same players every day in practice [all last season]. It’s good to see how I match myself up and how much better I’ve gotten over the course of a year.”
Some news and notes:
- In eyeballing the possible composition of the final roster, there are only four “true” guards left out of the 16 players, so you’d have to assume that Yogi Ferrell, Spencer Diniwddie, Chasson Randle and Sean Kilpatrick all have strong chances to make the trip. The mix could be complicated by the large number of decent-sized wings, though. You have Tyler Haws, Luke Hancock, Jerian Grant and Treveon Graham all in the 6-foot-5, 200-pound range, with various skills that can complement the guards and big men who are left. I still think the team needs as many shooters as it can get, so Haws may get the nod along with Hancock, but we’ll see.
- The most interesting choices may come in the frontcourt, where Alex Kirk, Adreian Payne, Cory Jefferson and Aaron White all provide very different things. Kirk is the least athletic of the four, but he’s also the biggest and has the most perimeter shooting skill, which could help in international-style basketball. Just eyeing the roster composition, two of the four cuts probably will come from this group.
- Jefferson had the moment of the practice when, during a 2-on-1 drill (with a chasing second defender), he sized up his approach and soared over Kirk for a filthy dunk that created some titters in the gym. Jefferson is a ridiculous leaper for a guy his size. He looks like a condor swooping down to the rim. He’s a better player in person than what I perceived in watching Baylor.
- The more I watch Kilpatrick, the more I like him. He's a noticeable physical presence at the guard spot, and he's mixing an all-business demeanor with open coachability. In chatting with him for a few minutes after the practice, he seemed self-aware about the weaknesses in his game and what he needs to do to improve as a senior.
- I have also been very impressed with Indiana’s Will Sheehey. Beyond the work ethic and effort you know he’ll give you, he’s shown off a good looking jumper and more athleticism than I thought he had. It wouldn’t be a shock at all if he makes the final 12, especially since he’s used to coming off the bench for a good team and being productive.