Open Gym Observations

With full practices still over a month away, couldn't wait to see the new faces as well as the old so we took a journey to Titan Gym to check out some pick-up games. Here are some thoughts from 45 minutes of viewing from the other day...

Be warned these are very early season evaluations so please take them as such.

The only players on the current roster who did not play were Pape Sow and David Warsaw.

Warsaw was in class and Pape is still sidelined with migraine headaches but has been doing some light workouts. Coaches hope he can begin full workouts within the next couple weeks to be sure the medication he is taking is working properly. Obviously not a good sign but I know we all hope Pape gets well as soon as possible.

As for the play on the court, here is how I viewed it:

Ralphy Holmes is simply a man among boys. He is so much better than everyone on the court I am amazed we won only 10 games last year. And this is no knock on the other players, they are all very good but Ralphy is in a class by himself. I honestly feel that shoulder injury last year affected him more than he would admit. Not only is he probably the best player in the Big West but he is easily the most fun to watch. I would pay to watch him play pick-up.

The surprise performer was the play of Bron Groomes. I could be mistaken, but he appears to have been working hard in the weight room, especially his arms. Groomes was hitting everything, inside, outside, some nice post moves. Defense was not the strength of anyone's game on this day but he was hustling. All good signs he is ready to step up this year. Unfortunately I just don't see anyone pushing him for the starting PF spot so I  hope he continues to show improvement.

Got my first glimpse of Bobby Brown and I know he will be a more than adequate backup to Zakee Smith. Smaller than I had imagined -- needs to get in the weight room in a serious way -- but is very quick. Definitely the fastest player on the floor. And he has good hops because he easily dunked on more than occasion. He had at least 3 steals while I was there, so the label some have put on him that he can't play defense is simply not true. As with any freshman PG he will turn the ball over but let's hope he has a good mentor in Smith.

Brown may push Zakee for playing time but I believe Smith will be one of the biggest benefactors of Bob Burton's offense. Pushing the ball is his specialty and I am amazed what he sees -- and finds -- running down the floor. And he never seems to turn the ball over even though his passes are on the risky side. Zakee just needs to start working on his shot. Once he decides to put extra time in the gym he will be irreplaceable. Improving his shot is even more important now that Fedi is gone.

This was also the first time I have seen Hardy Asprilla. He has a very similar game (and body) to Amir Bar-Netzer but is a better, although a tad smaller, player. Think same intensity and just as physical but has a much better shot and is more vocal on the floor. Can we say good-bye to all those missed layups?  I think we can. I think we can. I think we can.

Yaphett King I had seen play before. He is basically a big man in a small body. Has very good post moves and is pretty comfortable with his fall-away jumper to get the ball over people like Babacar Camara. I would guess he needs to lose 15-20 pounds before he gets into game shape. If he can do this he will be quicker and may be able to handle the opponents 3-spot. I just don't see him as a power forward because of his height. Good, solid player who is not afraid to put the ball up. He seems to have that mentality of getting us a basket when we desperately need one. Only concern is can he rebound.

Virginia transfer Jermaine Harper was also playing. First impression was he is skinny. Second impression was he is skinny. Third impression, he can play. He's not in Ralphy's league but he will be an excellent player in the Big West. He has some very smooth moves and looks like he has a pretty good shot and handles the ball well. Didn't see anything dazzling or any indication he can take over a game but if we can get a few more (BIG) players with similar talent we will compete for a Big West title in 04-05. A big if, I know, but it's a start and a good one at that.

The other newcomers (Danny Lambert, Jason Pettaway and Brian Pruitt) were actually pretty good for being walk-ons. Most, if not all, would be scholarship players under the Hawking years. All are better than Denver Lopez (who is on scholarship) or Joe Nichols.

Pruitt seems likely to be the one who will get some minutes because he plays the 4 position and there really is no depth here. Jamal Forcheney could be a bigger loss than Fedi because of this. If Pruitt can see this I think he may actually play a bit harder. I get the feeling he is just going through the motions sometimes. Either he doesn't know how good he can be or is disappointed he is a walk-on and figures he won't see any playing time.

Pettaway looks like a mini-Elden Campbell and for a freshman he was playing pretty well. He had three straight put-back offensive rebounds and made them all. Derrick Andrew was covering him and obviously was not giving him the respect he deserved. Pettaway is kind of a deceptive player and seem a little quiet so it will be interesting to see how he develops.

Didn't get to see too much of Lambert but just saw enough to know he will help us, whether he gets any playing time or not.

Of the other returning players, all look similar to last year. DA was hitting his mid-range jumper but will need to practice the three. Anthony Bolton is just a great competitor and is most likely the second best player on the floor. He's one of those guys who pushes the envelope in practice and can be irritating to some of his teammates but come game time there is no one better to have than Ant.

I think some people will never give Babacar Camara any credit but I still continue to see improvement. He was scoring at will against his smaller opponents and sometimes it just didn't seem fair. Yes, he took a few of those 10-15 footers with the awkwark looking shot but if we can get him to stay near the basket he is quite effective. I honestly did not see one case of "bad hands" so I am encouraged here as well.

Bottom line: We have a lot of players and if most of them stick there will be some good competition going on. With the number and quality of players, practice time may be the biggest improvement we have over last season. We are very thin in the front court so we need heathly bodies, otherwise we will be playing small-ball, and with Ralphy Holmes this just may work.

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