USFNation: Most people think about basketball practice opening with the traditional Midnight Madness in October, but you're at it right now with group workouts. How important is this time in order to prepare for the season?
Stan Heath: Honestly, I think this is the most important time of the year. It's the time when we can spend time with our players. It's our first chance to get on the floor with them, see where they are, mold them, bring them together and do a lot of teaching. It's the foundation for how our season's going to go.
USFNation: So what is the format of these workouts? What does the NCAA allow?
Heath: We're allowed eight hours a week and two of those hours can be skill instruction. We break our instruction up into three, 40-minute sessions during the week. Right now, until Sept. 16, we're in a phase where we can only have four in a group. After that, we can do it any way we want to do it. We can have our whole team or split it up – bigs and small. Right now, we pretty much have our guards working with each other and the bigs are working with each other trying to build some chemistry there. Eventually, we'll mix those groups together.
USFNation: Most of the guys have actually been around since summer classes in June, right?
Heath: Yes. We hired a new strength coach, Graham Anderson, and he's done a phenomenal job, not just weight training, but we've been doing a lot of conditioning and what I call character building since the summer. We put them through adversity, tough things and try and see if those guys can pull together and fight through things together. Again, it just sets the tone for things you're going to face during the season.
USFNation: I have to imagine there is a real adjustment, particularly for the freshman when it comes to the speed of the game and the intensity that's expected all the time?
Heath: That's been the biggest thing with the young guys. They have to understand that everybody out here is all-state, all-this, all-that and some of the things you were able to get away with in high school, you can't necessarily do here. If you take a play off, you're going to get burned. If you go to the hole and you don't go strong, you're going to get your shot thrown out of the gym. So they've got to get used to those things and get used to the intensity level of the game. A lot of times when you're the star at your high school, you don't necessarily play defense all the time. You're a little protected so you don't get in foul trouble. Here, you've got to guard. That's the biggest adjustment. These kids are all here and want to learn. They're very coachable. I really like this group and I think it's going to build and build to the point where we're going to have a very strong season and program.
USFNation: You've also added two new members to your staff with Jeremy Cox and Eric Skeeters. They seem to be very high-energy guys.
Heath: Terrific. That's why I feel comfortable that I can leave and come back. They're very good additions to my coaching staff. We lost some very good coaches, but sometimes when you lose good coaches, you still have a chance to get better. I think in some ways we've added guys who can help us get our team better. Coach Cox has great experience, being a head coach in junior college and winning a national championship; being at Texas A&M and Kentucky, so he's been around the block. Coach Skeeters has been in it for 16 years, as well, so both guys have a lot of experience. They bring energy and they connect very well with the players. So I think they've been a great fit and they're both terrific recruiters, which is very important to me, too.
USFNation: So their transitions have been pretty seamless?
Heath: What I really like about both of them is they didn't sit around. They went in and said, "Coach, just give me the kind of parameters of what you're looking for and I'll do it." That's what I like about them. I've told them some of the things I've done in the past, but I've also allowed them to add things they've done with previous programs that can help our team.
USFNation: One player you've consistently pointed to for his progress during the offseason is Gus Gilchrist. You're obviously very happy with his work.
Heath: I'm very pleased with Gus. Most people don't know that he was dealing with a low iron count in his blood last year. He's anemic, so he had to take iron pills. Now we've got that under control. He's had a strong offseason with lifting and conditioning. We had one of our biggest conditioning tests where you run 22 sprints with a 22-second timer on it and he's able to make it. Last year, boy, seems like he ran up and down the floor three times and I had to take him out of the game. He's a different guy. If you're an athlete and you're feeling good, you feel like you're in good shape, you can perform better.
USFNation: You have depth in numbers for the first time during your tenure, but do you feel like the young guys you've brought in are going to be able to make immediate contributions?
Heath: I think so. The younger guys – (Mike) Burwell, (Jordan) Dumars, (Shaun) Noriega – all do something that allows you to put them out there. They can shoot the ball from range, so they're a constant threat and can help our team. Obviously, having a year under Justin's (Leemow) belt, we have Chris Howard back, Mike Mercer now and Anthony Crater, we have perimeter depth. I'm not so sold on our post depth yet. (Toarlyn) Fitzpatrick still has a little ways to go. Alex (Rivas) is not totally healthy right now, so that really leaves Gus and Jarrid (Famous). I love having those two there, but they need someone who's going to spell them. Hopefully, Toarlyn or Alex will emerge and be able to play at a good level where they can give those guys minutes.
USFNation: I know Alex Rivas surprised you a bit with what he was able to do last year, giving you minutes. Where is he in the process of getting back?
Heath: He still has problems with his legs. The doctors are looking at it and we're trying to get a handle on that. He's been able to go and then he has to come out, so he hasn't been able to consistently work out the way the other guys have, so we have some concern there. Hopefully we can get that resolved. If we can ever get a healthy Alex with his legs, we'd all be very pleased with the kind of player he could be.
USFNation: Last week you got a chance to get back on the recruiting trail. Can you tell us about your goals for the next signing class?
Heath: We're looking at three areas right now. We want to get a point guard or maybe more of a combo guard. We're looking for a big wing and we're also looking for someone with some size inside. We're looking for three players that can cover each of those areas. We're just trying to add to what we have. Most of our main guys are all sophomores and juniors, so we have guys back, but we'd like to add a piece or two to make us that much better.
USFNation: Do you typically recruit to specific need rather then just seeking the best athlete you can?
Heath: This year is different. The first two years, we were just trying to get the best players we could while we were rebuilding. We felt we only had two or three Big East players and we had to get that up to about seven or eight. So we had our work cut out for us. Now that we've assembled guys that we feel can help us in so many areas, it's just trying to build on that. It's certainly not a panic mode like early on where you were just frenzied. It's more specific: Who can bring what to the table to help us?
USFNation: Do you feel you'll be able to get your needs met during the early signing period in November?
Heath: I think our recruiting is in the best shape it's been. We actually have one of two guys who have already told us they want to (commit), and at the same time we're on a couple more guys where we want to see where we are before we make any decisions. We're involved with some premier junior college players where Coach Cox has tremendous connections there. Coach Skeeters has us really involved in some high-profile guys out of the Baltimore/East Coast area. So they've stepped right in and put us in some spots where we haven't been involved before.
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