College basketball now open for business in September
Villanova coach Jay Wright wanted a guard to get to a particular spot on the floor.
From there, Wright told his basketball team, Option A was "to the rim. You got that?"
It was 8:30 Friday morning in the upstairs gym at the Davis Center, Villanova's practice facility. Officially, this was 'Nova's first preseason practice, the first Big Five practice, the start of a new year. Where were the balloons?
The reality: Most college teams now get together 10 months a year. Teams are allowed to be together in the fall and also in the summer for limited hours. Villanova players didn't look confused by what Wright was telling them.
"We're just in the middle of our process," Wright said. "We've been working our butts since we got back in September. We had two hours of basketball, but you get six hours a week of conditioning. Now, we're just allowed to do more basketball."
Wright likes this setup, with year-round hours, including in the spring. Virtually all his players were on campus for most of the summer. And practice now starts earlier in the calendar. Each team can begin six weeks before their first game.
The difference is, teams can have 30 practices over the 42 days before the game. The old system had 24 practices in 30 days.
"We don't feel the pressure to get everything in before the first game," Wright said. "What we did, this summer we did all just offensive skills or offensive concepts. No defense."
His reasoning - players weren't going to carry over defensive work to summer pickup games.
"They'll work on the offensive stuff by themselves," Wright said. "Whatever you're working on, if it doesn't translate to 5 on 5, it doesn't matter. The fall, we did all defense."
If it sounds more grueling to go year-round, Wright believes the opposite, since there are more days off in October.
"Last year for the first time we were allowed to practice in the summer," Wright said. "The basketball in tournaments in November was way better. All of us were better. In the past, we just crammed. If you played in early November, you had, like, 21/2 weeks of practice. It wasn't just that you weren't really prepared, but physically, guys were beaten down. So this is really nice."
Villanova and Drexel practiced Friday. St. Joseph's begins Saturday, and Temple and La Salle on Monday. (Penn begins in October because of Ivy League rules.)
It looks to be a fascinating year for Big Five basketball. Some basic plotlines:
Villanova: The Wildcats go into the new Big East on the upswing, with a perimeter-oriented group.
Drexel: The Dragons figure to contend in the Colonial - but they figured to contend last season before dropping to 13-18.
St. Joseph's: The Hawks also didn't meet expectations, but if their perimeter players can produce, they have the frontcourt to contend in the Atlantic 10.
La Salle: No more underdog status for the Explorers, with most of their rotation back from their Sweet 16 ride.
Temple: Khalif Wyatt, now with the 76ers, carried the Owls on his back offensively. His load will have to be spread around, and Temple's defense needs to get markedly better for the Owls to think about returning to the NCAA tournament as they begin in the new American Athletic Conference.
Penn: The Quakers should be improved. The question is whether improvement will be enough in a league where Harvard looks loaded.
Right now, coaches in the city aren't thinking so much about that kind of big picture. They know where they stand. Wright ended practice at the foul line, seven seconds left . . . going over different situations, what the shooter should be thinking about. The ball never left the shooter's hand.
Over at Drexel in the afternoon before practice, Bruiser Flint talked in his office about the academic quarter system that has his Dragons in a different spot.
They just started school last week and were off for some weeks before then, players away from campus. So his first practice, Flint said, was going to be more like a true first practice.
Coming off a 13-win season, the focus for Drexel's players should be different than coming off the 30-win the year before.
"Hopefully,'' Flint said, and he started laughing. "That's what makes this job tough. People don't realize - oh, you had two really good years and then you had a tough one with the same guys. You would think they would be a little more focused. We'll see.''