Goals for opening weeks: "Your main objective is trying to instill how hard and how tough you practice. Defending and rebounding, the emphasis on that. But we have to be aware of the clock and understand that in three weeks we have the first exhibition game. And once you open up there's very little practice time, so in these four weeks I have to install not only our system but instill the toughness we have to play with."
Work done leading up to official practices: "It was different this preseason, a different rule that allows us to practice our whole team together at one time if we want to. We're still under the two hours limit during a week, but we can practice them as a team for an hour and watch them play as a team for a whole hour. That's different from the past and it's a very good rule for us, absolutely with this team. Any team it's a good rule but not knowing anything about your team it's even more important this year to be able to do that. We coaches wanted the girl's rule, they have four hours of individual skills work. Ours stayed at two. Why, who knows? Coach Polk can explain that."
Outlook for 2005-06: "We're very young and we have a long way to go as a team. For some reason you knew that would be the generic answer: young and a long way to go! But is there a younger team in the country than us? I don't know. Is there any team in the country that brings back less than us, I don't know who it is. When you figure up the amount of minutes played and the amount of points scored by returning players does anyone in the country have less than us? Scoring, rebounding, minutes. Early in (last) season we got some playing time for some of those younger guys but late in the SEC it (playing time for them) got worse. I was watching the game against Duke, there wasn't a whole lot of minutes off that bench. Dietric Slater gave us four minutes, Charles Rhodes five or six, Jamall Edmondson six minutes. It wasn't a lot."
Having the least-experienced roster of his eight seasons: "I'm not going to talk about this all year, but this is magnified because we lost the high school kids that got drafted. I knew we were going to be young but Monta Ellis would offset so much youth, so much inexperience because he is so good. Losing him, the inexperience and youth get exposed more. That's what is different than I've ever had before. Even with Ellis we'd have been young but we'd have had a player able to offset a lot of that. I've never had a group with six freshmen and three sophomores and returning what we have. We just don't have much returning that's been effective at all. That's very obvious on paper.
"I've never used the word ‘rebuild.' But this is different than anything we've ever had. I won't use it, we're just young. We're young on top of young. But we'll set out with the same mindset we always set out with. Naturally we understand there will be a lot of challenges, with as much youth as we have, and I've got to keep that in mind as we push these guys. It's not going to be game-by-game, it's going to be possession-by-possession in how we respond.
"But I like the talent level. I think we've got some kids who've been around that can step up and do some things they haven't done. That's the key, we've got to get productivity out of those who have been around. We know no matter how good or talented they are freshmen are going to be freshmen. You can't always depend on freshmen to do the right things. Older guys you depend on do to the right things possession after possession, and this team needs steadiness out there and mix in these freshmen with them."
The incoming freshman class: "Our freshmen were here four (summer) weeks and that helps immensely. We had four in all second term, Vernon Goodridge wasn't here until later. But it helps, having them in the weightroom makes a huge difference. And having those older guys around helped, too."
Looking for team leadership: "Naturally you want to try to get some of your older players—I'm not going to say experienced, they're older—to help from a leadership standpoint. Guys who have been around the program some. Wesley Morgan has been around. Naturally you'd like to get leadership verbally from a point guard. And then from a collection of other guys like Michael Boler, or your juniors Dietric Slater and Pete Stelmach, guys who haven't played much but have been around. You're not going to get much dependability from the young guys, and when I say young kids it's all the freshmen and three sophomores. You've got to grab some leadership out of that bunch, that's all there is right there. You don't expect it out of those freshmen and I don't expect it out of those three sophomores. You expect a little more from the juniors and seniors no matter how much they've played, that's what we've got to draw from anyway."
"Jamall has done better in conditioning, and his game has changed and you'll see that. It's changed immensely. We've had adjust what we're doing a little bit for his game, because he can be pretty explosive offensively. He can pass the basketball, too. I think he'll surprise some people.
"Dietric has been out for most of the fall conditioning, he's had muscle spasms in his back and went for a second shot today. He's just been in-and-out, very sporadic. But we know all about Dietric, he's going to give you everything he's got every possession. That's what we need from him, he gives us some immediate toughness on the floor and the guy is a shut-down defender."
Morgan's class status: "On paper he's a senior but with that medical hardship you've got to list him as a junior. You can't appeal for the hardship until spring but we see no reason why he won't have it. His is going to be easy to get."
Charles Rhodes' progress: "There is no question he's a special athlete. He can run and jump as well as Lawrence Roberts, he has that kind of ability. And no question he's better than he was last year. Is he where he needs to be, no. Is he better, absolutely. He just has to become more consistent, he's got to be able to do it not one day or one possession but every possession. I think you'll see his offensive game is a lot better."
Walter Sharpe's status: "He'll practice. We'll see what his status is after the first semester, if he makes his grades then he'll be eligible by December 10. If he does what he's supposed to do. He's made it this long, every week is a new week, but if he'll keep doing what he's doing and regains eligibility he'll play."
How the new players fit into plans: "I've got a feel for a couple of them. I can tell you all of them will play, and will play more than any freshman class we've had here. I'm not going to say I'm going to redshirt this one or not redshirt one. But it's obvious Jamont Gordon has stood out, not just to us coaches but to his teammates. I think he has a chance to be a very special freshman, because he possesses two things you've got to have: physical and mental toughness. Most freshmen don't have that, he has both. He's 6-4, 225, he's strong, he has that swagger about him. There's no question with him. I feel he can be a shut-down defender. He can play one, two, or three. One might be his best position even, but with the makeup of our team he's got to be more on the wing.
"Both of the Delks (Reginald and Richard) have to play, they're going to play. They came in at 164 pounds and are up to 174 now, that's a whole lot if you're putting ten pounds on a guy who has gone through conditioning. They've been running their butts off for six weeks and are still able to put ten pounds on, that's huge.
"Goodridge is making progress. He's the one who has probably had to adjust more than any other freshman just because of learning how hard we do things, the conditioning, all that. He's struggled more with that concept. But he's a great kid and to his credit he wants to do everything right, he's just never done conditioning the way we do it. He's got the attitude it takes to keep improving. It's more of an adjustment for him than anybody, but his ability to run, go block shots is something special. And once he figures out how hard he has to run every time…baseline-to-baseline he can run with most of them, he just has to learn how to do it every trip! He had farther to go. The Delks come from a basketball background, Jamont from the best prep school program in the country. Vernon didn't play much high school until late in his career, but he has a special ability.
"I couldn't ask for better freshmen. In summer and fall they've yet to be late to a 6:00 am workout, to a class, for breakfast, for study hall. That tells you what those guys are about. I've never had a group of kids do that as a group, ever. That's pretty special."
How this roster impacts preparations and plans: "We might have to do some things differently because we're young. But our goals are always the same, we'll never back off that. I just have to understand what we're working with trying to achieve those things, and the biggest thing is we have to be able to figure out what we've got and adjust to people's strengths. In the past even losing seniors I've had guys coming back that had played and I knew how to fit them in. My guys coming back now, you don't know for sure what they can and can't do all the time.
"It's different, and our challenge is going to be playing to the strengths of this team. Not taking players and putting them in this system, but taking that system and tweaking whatever needs tweaking and play to the strengths of these players, and allows young kids to play, too. I can put them in and make them do whatever we've done in the past, but again I have to understand their mental abilities and not handcuff them so they can't play as freshmen. I have to hide their weaknesses and play to their strengths as best I can until they get the concepts of what is going on.
"But from a defending and rebounding standpoint, we'll not change. It's an amazing stat that we've led this conference in rebounding five years in a row. That emphasis won't change because that's about toughness and effort. It's going to be part of our philosophy and how we work on it. I mean, it is what we emphasize out there. And we don't care how old or young you are, playing hard doesn't change. Running and jumping is not the most important thing, it's the ability to sacrifice your body and play with toughness. Now can freshmen do this as good as the players who are gone, no. But we're not going to not stress it because they're freshmen, if that makes sense.
"We're going to be inexperienced at a lot of spots and those we're not, we're new at!"
This team's level of athletic ability: "When I say athleticism, I think the difference now is probably in depth, in numbers. In the post I think we can be very quick, and at four and five when we put the right lineup in we can get up-and-down. In the perimeter we were pretty quick last year, but I like our athleticism. Our fours and fives can really get up-and-down the floor and we have more numbers there."
New faces at the guard/forward positions: "We're young on the wings with Jerrell Houston and Bernard Rimmer. And it depends on where we play Jamont and Dietric. If we play Dietric at three it means you have to play somebody inexperienced at the two."
The outlook for the SEC: "I don't know about the rest of the SEC being young. Alabama returns a lot of players, they lost a guard and a forward. LSU returns three starters. Arkansas has everybody back, Ole Miss has the point guard, three-guy and both of those wings back and a kid that sat out last year. When you say young, it's more that some teams lost some great players. Florida lost two juniors and a senior, LSU lost Brandon Bass, Alabama lost two great players. Kentucky has the backcourt back."
Perceptions of this year's pre-SEC schedule: "Here's what people don't understand. The average RPI of this non-conference schedule is lower (stronger) than last year's RPI. The only thing missing is two names, Syracuse and Arizona. We open up with a Chattanooga that won their league and is picked to win again this year. We go to Charlotte with four of five starters back and a kid sitting out from Oklahoma. The lesser teams, Northwest Louisiana State is picked to win their league. Southeastern Louisiana went to the NCAA Tournament last year, with three or four starters back. And Santa Clara, just the nature of their league makes them a good team. These are high-quality RPI teams even if they aren't Arizona or Syracuse. We have one team with a RPI below 200 this year, that's Jacksonville State. Last year we had three or four, so our schedule's RPI is better. In Puerto Rico we get Akron or Holy Cross early, people don't know anything about those teams, Holy Cross is picked to win their league and Akron is picked second in theirs. And if we win that we get Clemson from the ACC. George Mason is a scary game against a heck of a team. It will be a great challenge for us."
Impact of the NBA's 19-year-age draft limit: "We're one year too late on it for sure! Will we have more kids that it affects, I don't know. Those great ones are going to find a way around that rule. And again, you ask yourself is it worth it to only have a kid for a year? We're going to be forced to recruit them, unlike Al Jefferson because we knew he was going. Now you're going to be forced to recruit the kid knowing he'll only stay a year, and by the time you get all the bad habits out and he can help he's going to go because he thinks he's ready. Right now I'm not faced with that in this year's recruiting class, so I'll look to next year's."
How many does State plan to sign this year: "Boler and Jamall are seniors. Wesley could be a senior, he has his degree. We'll sign two to three."
How soon would he like to set a lineup: "You know how I am, I don't always start my best team. Our biggest key is figuring out who our top players are and how they fit in as a team. Who plays best together with whom, which roles people are best in, that's my biggest challenge. I can get five players to stick out there, but it's not my best team. It's finding those eight or nine guys and how everybody fits. You know your most experienced players will have an advantage early, but that's not the way we've got to play all year long. We have to get that youth some experience. So it's not necessarily how we start, there will be some young guys playing I can promise you. Some freshmen are going to get some time."