Bigger, battle-tested SU holds open scrimmage

Sometimes it's tough in an intra-squad scrimmage to pinpoint the strengths and weaknesses of a basketball team. That which appears to be a positive could really be more of a negative, and vice versa. It's similar to critiquing a shadowboxing session -- trying to score a round in which both contenders are mirror images of each other.

So that's why I left Seattle University's Connolly Center gym on Saturday night unsure of what to make of the Redhawks following the team's open practice, the first public showing of the 2014-15 squad.

Is Seattle U a good offensive rebounding team, or a bad defensive rebounding team? Will the offense struggle shooting the ball, or is the defense just good at not giving shooters clean looks? Is the Redhawks' D particularly hard to penetrate, or does SU simply lack players who can create their own shot?

If I had to answer those questions now, my best guesses would be: (1) SU is a good offensive rebounding team; (2) their outside shooting needs work; (3) the Redhawks' defense looks pretty stout. But I could be wrong. The verdict is on hold at least until SU opens its season on Nov. 14 against Texas State.

The main event of Saturday's two-hour session was a 35-minue scrimmage in which the Red team -- guards Isiah Umipig and Jarell Flora, forwards Lewis Cramer and Shore Adenekan, and center Jack Crook -- outscored the White team, made up of guards Manroop Clair, Jack Shaughnessy and Emmanuel Chibuogwu and forwards William Powell and Deshaun Sunderhaus. Center Theo Turner subbed in on the White team for Sunderhaus, who is making his way back from a torn ACL in his left knee.

Head coach Cameron Dollar said afterward that the Red team's lineup is "not even close" to an accurate depiction of the eventual starting five. (Although I think it's safe to say that Umipig and Crook will be starters this season, and most likely Flora.) Dollar mentioned in an answer to an unrelated question that "you kind of know your rotation" at this point in the season.

Before the scrimmage, SU went through the layup lines, shooting drills and situational reps you’d expect to see at a college practice. But this, Dollar admitted, wasn't a typical practice.

"It was different because we played more. We let the guys get up and down," Dollar said. "Usually we'd do a little more drill work, more individual stuff. We didn’t do as much of that. We didn’t wanna bore the fans. (Laughs) Usually we’d have a little more defensive breakdown drills, rebounding drills, things like that."

Size and experience stand out on this team, whether you were watching Saturday's practice or if you've only seen the roster on paper.

The Redhawks are noticeably bigger than a year ago. True freshman Aaron Menzies literally stands above everyone else at 7-foot-3. Then there's Crook and Turner, both 6-11. Sunderhaus and Adenekan are 6-9. Chibuogwu adds height to the backcourt at 6-6, while freshman point guard Jadon Cohee has good size for his position at 6-4.

Seattle U has four seniors -- Adenekan, Flora, Umipig and guard Emerson Murray -- all of whom could be starters. Last year's team had only two seniors, forward Clarence Trent and guard D'Vonne Pickett. Flora is in his fifth year at Seattle U. Murray and Umipig, transfers from California and Cal State Fullerton, respectively, are also in their fifth season of D-1 basketball. Adenekan, who transferred to SU last season from Lamar Community College in Colorado, is a fourth-year senior. Sunderhaus, a redshirt junior, is in his fourth year at SU. The team has two other juniors, three sophomores and four freshmen.

To no one's surprise, Umipig was the standout talent on the floor Saturday. The 6-foot point guard is coming off a debut season at SU in which he finished second in the WAC in scoring (19.6 points per game) and set the school's single-season record for three-pointers (106). He is the face of the franchise.

Looking a bit more muscular than last season, Umipig carried himself like a WAC Player of the Year contender on Saturday. He led drills before the scrimmage, then got down to the business of running the offense, hitting threes from various spots on the court -- some of them from NBA range -- and making aggressive drives to the basket. For a next-level comparison, think something between Damian Lillard of the Portland Trail Blazers and a younger Jameer Nelson.

Sunderhaus, SU's most talented big man, didn’t show any obvious signs of lingering mental and physical damage from the knee injury, although he was held out for a chunk of the final scrimmage as a precaution. If he wasn’t wearing a big brace on his left knee, you might not have known Sunderhaus had any medical concerns. He showed a nice little jumper and scored inside despite being guarded by a combination of Crook and Adenekan, probably the two strongest players on the team.

Another pleasant surprise was Clair, the 6-2 guard who sat out last season after transferring from Hawaii. Clair’s confidence on the court was a 180-degree shift from the player who often seemed timid and uncomfortable in the SU practices I observed last season. On Saturday, Clair played like a Umipig clone, needing only a sliver of open space to boldly pull up for threes or fearlessly attack the basket.

But the most visible player on the court was, naturally, Menzies. The freshman from England (one of four SU players from England) looks like every bit of that 7-3 listing, and with his hair, probably covers about 7-feet-6 of actual space before he lifts his arms up. During one drill in which the bigs rolled to the basket while guards fed them alley-oops, Menzies looked like he could've dunked every time without jumping.

Menzies barely played in the scrimmage as a backup on the Red team. Clearly he's a very raw talent, and my guess is that he'll redshirt this season just as Turner did a year ago. After practice was over, Menzies and Turner stayed behind for more work with assistant coaches on their post offense and defense.

As for other newcomers, freshman Shaughnessy showed some quickness, ball-handling skills and a decent mid-range jumper. A natural point guard, however, the 6-2 Georgia native played out of position during the scrimmage with Clair running point for the White team.

Cramer, a junior transfer from Sacred Heart, fit in well as the do-everything "energy guy" for the Red team. He may not have scored all night, but he’s the kind of player who keeps the machine humming smoothly by being in the right places at the right times.

Sophomore forward William Powell is like the more athletic version of Cramer who can not only do the little things on the floor but also above the rim. Powell had some standout moments on Saturday, including a pair of impressive dunks. He would be a leading candidate to fill one of the SU's glaring holes -- a wing player who can create his own offense -- but while Powell showed more aggressive tendencies on Saturday than he showed as a freshman, that role just doesn't seem like his style.

Murray and Cohee sat out on Saturday. Cohee suffered a concussion in practice on Thursday, and Murray injured an ankle about a week ago. Dollar said Cohee is still going through the program's concussion protocol, while Murray is a few days away from returning.

The next opportunity to see the Redhawks on the court will be the night of Oct. 30 during the Midnight Madness event at Connolly Center.

"We had good ball movement today. We're getting better on D," Dollar said of Saturday’s session. "It’s a little different when you’ve got vets out there -- you just kind of let them play and refine some stuff. You’re looking beyond the edges because you’ve already got an idea of the rotation. You’re just fine-tuning some things and giving the younger guys a chance to emerge."

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