Wednesday was the first chance for most in the media to see what is in store for the Cougars this year. The usual suspects were there: Austin Ainge, Derek Dawes – while no longer on the team, he is still around and helping out where he can – Mike Rose, Jimmy Balderson and Keena Young. The key cogs of last year were present as well in Trent Plaisted, Lee Cummard, Rashaun Broadus, and Fernando Malaman. Joining the fray were Sam Burgess, Vuk Ivanovic, Gavin MacGregor, Jonathan Tavernari, Jordan Cameron, Ben Murdock, and Brock Zylstra.
The practice began like every practice last year – with the players running up and down the court multiple times. The team looked to have improved their speed from last year and Burgess said that it was because of the hard work the players and training staff put in during the off-season. While running the weave drill, Plaisted, MacGregor, Cummard, Tavernari, Cameron, Ivanovic and Balderson all threw down thunderous dunks.
The returning players also looked to have bulked up. Plaisted and Cummard have both officially added five pounds, but appear to have much more muscle and definition in their arms. Young continues to be a specimen of fitness and even the incoming freshmen look to be in very good shape. They look nothing like the typical 18-year-old freshman.
Cummard spent much of the summer working out with his old coach. "I focused on shooting and more shooting," he said. "Some dribbling, but mainly shooting. It's where I had to get better at most."
When asked if he was ready to live up to "the man, the myth, the legend status that was heaped upon [him] prior to last year," Cummard jokingly said, "Oh absolutely, I just want to get on the court and play. But seriously, I want to redeem myself for how I played last year."
This year he will have plenty of talented and experienced help around him. The Cougars return a total of 174 starts. Four of five starters return from last year's 20-9 squad and the team is ready for a big season.
Ivanovic said that the team is stronger than last year. He also said that they run "way faster, and we know what to expect from each other and the coaches – since it's our second year with them."
When asked about Plaisted and Cummard, Ivanovic said: "I wish Trent all the best. He looks better than he did at the end of last year. It's going to be up to him. I really like how Lee plays. He's skinny, but he can rebound, shoot and move. He's worked on his passing, and he really sees the game now. He's got the heart and that's most important."
With the season opener against UCLA under 40 days away (Nov. 15), the Cougars will waste no time getting ready for them. Plaisted said that the players want to play games right now, but he understands that there is work that needs to be done before that can happen.
- Gavin MacGregor might be my favorite of the newcomers, if you do not count Vuk as a newcomer. MacGregor is extremely athletic and has a very soft, lefty shot. Not only can he dunk with power and explosiveness, he can smoothly stroke it from behind the arc.
- Mike Rose is called "Money" by some teammates and the kid can flat out shoot the rock. If he is open it is as close to automatic as it gets. Now if he can just translate that to the game consistently…
- Cameron and Tavernari are going to push for playing time. Tavernari improved greatly from his time at Timpview two years ago. He looks like a different player – he is quicker, and more explosive and a better leaper than anticipated. Oh, and he does not even look like he is trying when he shoots from three-feet behind the arc.
- Cummard and Balderson will pick up where they left off last year. Both are very excited for the season to start. Balderson is particularly eager to play well in his final campaign.
- Hustle will be a mainstay on this team. During their hour-long workout, they were constantly moving and running. There were two quick water breaks and then it was more moving and running. The team will be in very good condition when they travel to UCLA.
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