Tony Bethel ... what is his status?
Since Novemeber 9th, we've been getting Tony involved in practice in ever-increasing amounts. We have given him some days off completely. But for the most part he's been gradually on his way back. He's doing well.
Will he play Friday?
Well I do expect him to play this weekend. It's a little big tricky playing three consecutive days. We'll have more information probably by the time we get into it, as far as how he can respond in terms of games in that many days.
What does his presence give to you guys?
You can definitely sense a difference when he's on the practice floor alone. We talked many times about how he made a great difference for us the year he sat out, just making our practices more competitive. Tony's an energetic guy, he's an outgoing guy. So he can lift the atmosphere just when he's out there. Certainly he's a very good player, so having him available on our rotation also helps our team. But its going to take time. He's gotta get conditioned. He has to get repetitions under his belt and he's doing things for the first time in a long time.
What are you most excited about?
I'm just looking forward to playing at this point. You can only do so much against each other, but to really take the next step on that improvement ladder, you have to play against other people. I think we're at that point. Maybe in a perfect world you'd have a little more time, but you can never have enough time to cover everything. But it's probably good that we play against somebody other than ourselves and get feedback.
Is there an advantage to playing three games in three
I don't know that there really is to be honest with you, other than it gives us more total games in our season, because we're eligible for an exempt tournament. Three games on consecutive dates is a lot. Another thing is that, in general, the college basketball season is underway early, for the teams that played this week. We're four weeks from the day we started practice. There was a time, where you're not in one of these tournaments, when tip-off is Thanksgiving weekend. That roughly gave you six weeks to get a team ready, and two weeks is a significant amount of time.
Is this team picking up the offense ahead of pace or behind than
It's really hard to gauge. I don't think anybody's offense is where it's going to be in January, that's highly unusual. Teams tend to get better and you play against different kinds of defenses and you're guys get better at it. So you wouldn't expect teams to be in midseason form offensively or defensively. But there certainly is a premium on getting better everyday.
I think the greatest challenge is always coming together as a team and we have tremendous young men on our team. But like any group of people, any team, you have to make sure that you can put aside that ever-powerful human ego at times and really come together for a common goal. That's something that you never achieve and take a deep breath with, you have to work on it everyday, even when you're pretty good at it. So I think just continuing to do everything we can to be a team.
How much time do you spend for preparing for each team for a weekend
like this one?
It's difficult before any first game of a season, because you're pretty much relying on whatever they did in the past. Usually the team has changed, guys have graduated, coaches change actions, offenses or systems. So there's not the same ability to prepare as you'd have once you get in full swing. Having said that, we try to give our guys at least a feel for what they've done in the past and then on the second or third day, you have a very short turnaround between games, so you really have to rely heavily on fundamentals and the basic building blocks we've tried to establish the first few weeks of practice.
Have you made more of an emphasis on the transition game this
Not particularly. I think we've always really tried to strike in transition when the opportunity presents itself. But I think you then have to recognize that in some cases the team that you're playing gets back on defense and you have to be able to execute in the half court. But we've always wanted our guys to push, to run and look for opportunities when they present themselves in transition. But then also, make good decisions when we don't have an advantage and make sure we still have a quality possession.
On Engin Atsur:
Engin is critical in everything we do. He has clearly established himself as a consistent player and that's a really important word in sports. We have come to know what to expect from him and I think night in and night out you're going to get an excellent effort and rock solid play. He just has a great ability to make good decisions and he's the kind of guy that just doesn't beat himself. I think he really is a team centered fellow and he cares about winning. We've talked about it many times, he's not someone to draw undue attention to himself. He is very gentle but in another sense he is one of our best competitors.
Illian's improvement and expectations:
At this time the last two years, he was not in good physical condition. He had many practice reps. Two years ago he was wearing a big heavy knee brace, so his mobility was diminished. He's been able to participate so he's been able to take advantage of the fruits that full engagement provide. He's out there and in better shape, he feels better and his body reflects that. He's trimmer, he's tighter. He's in the best physical condition he's been since his first year with us.