How can the Dunking Dawgs Improve?

His first Louisiana Tech men's basketball team had just been ousted in the first round of the Western Athletic Conference tournament.

Tech would finish 6-24 after losing 64-62 to San Jose State.

"I didn't go to bed," said Rupp, "when we got back from our last game."

Literally.

He stayed up all night, taking notes on the program's week-by-week progress, brainstorming on how to get better.

A dramatic influx of new blood awaits Rupp, including a trio of transfers who should transform Tech in 2008-09. But Rupp couldn't allow himself to solely count on hoped-for help from Kenny Cooper (Oklahoma State), Magnum Rolle (LSU) and Jamel White (Nebraska).

After all, they'll have to be integrated into what he's teaching. No one player is bigger than Rupp's idea of the collective.

"We need to focus on team chemistry, working together," said Rupp, whose offseason program will keep the group training as one. "When we play, they've got to learn to share. It can't be about any one individual player. The greatest teams sacrifice themselves for the betterment of the team. You blend those things and mesh those things together. That's what this offeason is about."

Over the course of that sleepness evening, Rupp further sharpened a platform of basic principles that he introduced this season: Great effort on the court and in class; working on fundamentals in games and during the offseason; and always, always, conditioning.

You've got to run to win.

"A remarkable season starts," Rupp adds, "by being in great shape."

One important sounding board was Louisiana Tech legend Karl Malone, who provided support both tangibly and intangibly -- notably underwriting a new floor at the Thomas Assembly Center -- through Rupp's rookie year.

"The biggest thing he did was put his money up to improve our facility," Rupp said. "As demanding as we are on these players, we need a first-class situation for them. He was very supportive throughout, with the players and the staff. That's big time. We were pleased having him on board, knowing he's there and supporting us regardless of the outcome. He's the heart and soul of the program."

Rupp's evaluation process always began, as with the San Jose stumble to end the year, with a long look in the mirror.

"After every loss, the first thing was to look at me and see what I can do better," Rupp said. "We then addressed that to each individual player. Those are the things that will help us get better as a team."

The bad news this season was Rupp only had one senior, and he wasn't even a regular starter. The good this season, conversely, is that Rupp only had one senior.

A team hobbled by youth a year ago returns as a bench full of seasoned veterans.

Tech desperately needs an inside presence. Helping that cause will be 6'11" Shawn Oliverson, a Cornell transfer who enrolled in the spring.

Rupp's group dropped 23 three-pointers in the final two games of the 2007-08 -- including a season-best 12 in the final loss -- but still went 1-1 over that span against San Jose State.

But it appears to have found a consistent performer in top-shooting rebounder Kyle Gibson, the only underclassman among the top 10 scorers in the WAC.

The campaign finished with some flashes of hope, too: Three of Tech's six victories were WAC wins -- including two to end the regular season.

Blending in transfers, even such blatantly talented ones, won't be easy. There may well be more nights spent tossing and turning.

Rupp's consistency in selling the team dynamic, however, should help with that adjustment.

"Even though we have some talent, that's only going to take you so far," Rupp said. "No one player will carry the load; they will have to work together."

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