Much like last year's open practice, the tone and the mood of session was exceptional. The drills were the same, the way practice was organized was the same, and the effort was the same. There was, however, a subtle difference. The youth of last year's squad was evident. In 2003's open practice there were times when Coach Amaker halted things to counsel his players on the proper way to do things. Whether it was running the offense appropriately or quashing finger pointing when things went wrong, Michigan's head man made it a point to hammer home his ideas by firmly addressing the issue at hand. In this year's practice Amaker didn't really have to do that. We witnessed a maturer unit on the floor. The type of leadership that is only formed by going through the battles and becoming veterans was easier to see. Last year, Bernard Robinson Jr. was that guy (as was J.C. Mathis to a certain extent). This year there are more players that have a grasp of what it takes to be successful.
One example occurred in an early scrimmage. Newcomer Ronald Coleman was standing in the wrong spot defensively. Instead of Coach Amaker having to stop practice and instruct Coleman on where to go before the play (or after his misalignment lead to a basket) it was Graham Brown that turned around to get his teammate positioned correctly. It was Graham Brown that told him WHY being where he was wouldn't work. That may not seem like a big deal, but is. On a youthful team in which everyone is more concerned with what it is they have to do, it's easy to not pay attention to (or care about) a mistake someone else is making. That makes it necessary for the coaches to intercede. Now, many of the lessons that the staff needs to teach the younger players can be passed on or reinforced by the older guys. Those lessons aren't always of the technical nature either. They're also regarding issues like the WAY you practice.
Granham Brown and Ronnie Coleman
These guys go hard! Things even got a little chippy at one point when Mathis was knocked down in the post. It was nothing malicious or flagrant. It was just a sign how fierce the competition was. That approach fosters an atmosphere that perpetuates itself. That's not to say that practice is like boot camp, because there were a number of light moments. It does say, however, that this team means business and the stamp the Amaker regime is putting on the program comes to the fore more and more every year.
Other brief observations:
- Courtney Sims' additional bulk makes him much more of a presence in the
post. In the limited scrimmage action we observed, there wasn't one time he
was moved off of the block after establishing position. He hit shots while
drifting away from the basket, off turnarounds, drop steps…pretty much
the entire litany of post moves. He flashed the ability to finish with both
hands around the bucket as he also displayed his newfound half hook. He definitely
appeared to be a more diverse offensive player. In the end though, his ability
to finish in traffic despite significant contact was his greatest area of
improvement with the ball in his hands. On the more subtle side of things,
he did an excellent job with the double team. He passed it out and reset to
receive the ball again (or so it could be reversed for an open shot) a number
of times. It was beautiful to watch. His play away from the ball was also
was markedly improved. He didn't hesitate to throw his weight and at times
it seemed as if he was looking to make a point by bodying guys coming through
- Daniel Horton has been doing an excellent job of running the offense in
practice thus far. Through Friday's session the coaches estimated that he
had made only one turnover while running the team. He seems to have a better
feel for when to look for his own offense and when to get it to his teammates.
- Lester Abram continued to exude the consistency we've all come to expect.
His handle has improved and he really looks prepared to step his game up to
the next level. He is this team's rock. We've spoken of how unassuming he
is, but at this point in time he is the team's most complete player. He does
it on both ends of the court with intensity. He's just plain fearless on offense.
He's not afraid to go to the basket and take the contact, nor is he afraid
to hoist it from deep. One thing was clear. Don't leave the guy open! If there
isn't a hand in his face, count it!
- If practice is any indication, Ronnie Coleman is really going to surprise
some of his doubters out there this season. After starting out slowly Friday,
he really began to warm up. By the end of practice he was draining shots from
15 feet on out. Plus, he again showed the ability to put the ball on the floor
and get to the basket. His versatility will likely allow him to be utilized
at the 2,3, and the 4. The coaches commented that if he could make a few of
those shots per game, it could greatly affect the way teams defend them when
the freshman is on the floor.
- Brent Petway didn't participate in the scrimmage because of a tweaked hamstring
suffered earlier in the week. However, word of his improvement thus far was
very prevalent around Crisler. Brent mentioned at Media Day that he had been
working on his game, with dribbling and shooting receiving a great deal of
attention. While that probably contributed a great deal to his improvement
that those in the program were speaking of, Coach Charles Ramsey indicated
that there was an even bigger reason. "Brent knows what he is doing on
the court now," Ramsey said. "When a player understands what it
is he's supposed to do, it eliminates the hesitation and the tentativeness
that you sometimes see with new players. They don't have to think about things.
They can just react to them." Whether Brent can knock down a shot consistently
from 15 feet or take the ball of the dribble remains to be seen. What seems
certain, however, is we'll see a more aggressive Petway on both ends of the
court…which is only going to increase his production.
- Chris Hunter didn't participate in the practice because of an exam.
- Jerret Smith and K'len Morris were both in attendance.
The primary concern for this team continues to be guard depth. Daniel, Dion (who was steady in the practice), and Lester will obviously man slots 1,2, and 3. The issue arises when one of those guys goes to the bench, (especially Horton). Dion mentioned that he expected to be off of the ball quite a bit this season, but without Robinson Jr. around anymore, the sophomore wing may be asked to quarterback the offense a great deal more than he indicated. It'll be interesting to see how this is handled. How much will they rely on Sherrod Harrell? How much will Ronnie give them? Those questions aside, this team looks poised to compete with the upper echelon of the Big Ten this season. They definitely appear to be one of the top 3 to 4 teams in the conference.
Check back for photos from both the open practice and media day tomorrow.