After being at the first practice a year ago I was expecting to see much of the same this year, which was a lot of confusion, players not executing, poor defensive skills, poor offensive skills, poor attitudes, etc.
It's clear now that a lot of that had to due with the talent level. We simply did not have it last year. This year, we have more depth and a lot more talent. Good players will actually have to fight it out to win starting jobs.
Another thing that was clear was the overall attitude of the team was much better. I think we now have players who are not only better skill-wise but are much more mentally tough.
While the coaches keep stats on just about everything that goes on during these practices there was one which was overlooked: Hands of Babacar.
Since everyone seems concerned about Babacar Camara's hands, or lack there of, I decided to chart how often his hands came into play. I charted every fumbled pass, every rebound which was stripped and every weak toss to his fellow players. The result? One. That's right, only one. A skeptic will say this was only one practice but I believe this is the new and improved Babacar. He may not be the starting center this year but he will be seeing more playing time than some may think.
Most of the time he was matched up against Pape Sow and I felt he held his own both defensively and offensively. He still has a ways to go with his footwork and agressiveness under the basket but I can see improvement.
On to some other notes. Of the new guys, Fedi, in all likelihood, will see the least amount of time, and the first practice did not alter this early season prognosis. But one thing is clear, the overall talent level has dramatically increased from last year. Fedi might be the 6th of 7th guy off the bench but he could easily have started last year. He's a good shooter but he is much quicker than David Castleton or Ryan Dillon and also has better handles.
Some other player notes:
Pape Sow. He's the man inside but still needs to work on the open 15-footer. He also needs to get better defensively ... or maybe Babacar was just looking good offensively :) All in all, the one scout (from the Portland Trailblazers) in attendance was very busy writing in his journal.
Ralphy Holmes: As practice wore on, most could barely move around and it was not a surprize to see a ton of bricks being thrown up. Not Ralphy. In fact, he was just starting to light it up. His jumper isn't pretty but it goes in and that's all that matters. This guy is a true gamer. He and Bolton were still shooting jumpers 30 minutes after practice.
Derrick Andrew: He gave Ralphy a good battle defensively and he looks like he has put on a few pounds in the weight room as well.
Jamal Forcheney & Bron Groomes: Jamal looked more muscular than I remembered the first couple times I saw him. He and Bron Groomes will be battling for a starting spot. Jamal is more of a banger while Bron is more of an outside scoring threat.
Zakee Smith: He had a wrap on his right hand but it didn't appear to affect his play. He looked very quick and made a few nice passes. I wasn't really isolating on him much but the fact I didn't notice many turnovers has to be a good sign.
Denver Lopez: Again, didn't notice him too much but his job is to get it to the other four guys so if he can do that he will be fine. Looks like the point guard depth chart right now is Zakee, Denver and Fedi.
Anthony Bolton (Ant): His shot wasn't falling during the practice but after practice, during the shoot around with Ralphy, he was deadly. The guy can shoot so I don't think we have to worry about that part of his game. He also loves to pass and he is very good for a small forward (or even a point guard). One thing that was stressed at the practice was the ability to take the charge and Ant proved his ability in this area more than once.
Brandon Campbell: His leg didn't look like it bothered him so that was a good sign. He may not be the star of this team but he had a solid practice which is just what we need.
Joe Nichols (sp?): He's another walk-on and will be a good practice player. Adrew Maxie was also practicing and will again walk-on. Daniel Ryan has some health problems and will not be on the team this year but he is still in school.
Overall, I thought this was a great start and as long as they improve Titan fans will be very pleased.