"It was just like another day on the job," said senior point guard D'Vonne Pickett Jr., referencing SU's offseason workouts transitioning to the first official practice.
The major difference now is that head coach Cameron Dollar and staff can fully oversee the team's training. In the offseason, NCAA rules limit coaches to just a couple of hours per week with players. For a squad that lost five seniors from last season and is introducing a handful of freshmen and transfers into the mix, that coaching is obviously needed.
"We went over about eight (offensive) sets, defensive footwork, box-out drills, then some actual game-time scenarios," Pickett said of Monday's three-hour afternoon practice.
Dollar is putting an emphasis on pick-and-roll offense, something the Redhawks struggled with last season while turning the ball over a conference-high 18.2 times per game. But with transfers Isiah Umipig (Cal State Fullerton) and Emerson Murray (California) now eligible in the backcourt, along with Pickett, SU now has more efficient and effective ball-handlers on the roster.
On defense, a significant chunk of practice time was spent on rebounding and pressuring the ball.
In the evening scrimmages, the aim is to replicate game scenarios as much as possible, with team managers acting as referees and an assistant coach leading each team.
One player that stood out in particular was freshman William Powell, a 6-6 wing from Alabama who last played at IMG Academy in Florida.
"He's kind of like DeJuan Blair," says Pickett of Powell, likening the frosh to the Dallas Mavericks forward/center. "He's not the guy to go and get 30 points, but he does everything else: getting on the floor, taking charges, tip-ins. ... He might be undersized, but he has a big heart. Somehow, he's always on the winning team."
Although the Redhawks went 8-22 last season (3-15 in the WAC), there is some postseason talk around the First Hill campus, and it's not entirely unrealistic.
The WAC underwent a major overhaul this summer, losing some of its stronger programs and retaining three -- New Mexico State, Idaho and Seattle U -- to compete with six newcomers. The conference is wide open, and considering that SU lost its two games last season against eventual WAC tournament champion New Mexico State by four points combined, Dollar's team has just as good a shot as anyone.
For now, though, it's just one day of practice down and many more to go before the Nov. 10 season opener at Washington.
"Across the board, I think we're a step ahead of last year," Pickett said. "Our chemistry is good. I'm looking forward to our first game to see what we can do this year."