The storyline most crucial to Xavier's success in the 2015 season revolves around replacing graduated point guard Dee Davis.
Junior Myles Davis, sophomore Larry Austin and redshirt freshman Edmond Sumner all took reps at the position during practice on Monday, but head coach Chris Mack made it clear afterward that he'd prefer for one of Austin or Sumner to take control.
"I would say that we'd really like to see Edmond or Larry emerge, and they will," Mack said. "I'm confident in both of them. I'd like to keep Myles off the ball because he's such a prolific shooter. I don't want him to necessarily have to be thinking about getting guys in spots and take away from what he does best."
While Sumner or Austin running the show may be optimal long term for the Musketeers, it's clear Davis' experience and leadership will factor in heavy early on as the three compete for the job.
"Any year that we start, every position is open competition," Mack said. "Certainly people want to know what's going to happen because we lost Dee, but I'm confident that we're going to have good point guard play. It'll be a little more inexperienced than it was a year ago, but it will also be a little bit bigger and a little bit more athletic. There's going to be a learning curve at that position. There's a number of ways we can go with it. We can go with Larry Austin, Edmond Sumner or Myles Davis, and probably to be fair it will be a combination of all three at certain times."
Gates Exits Early
Freshman Kaiser Gates showed off his combination of shooting ability and agility early in practice, but his day was cut short after he was hit in the head with an elbow while playing defense.
Head trainer David Fluker spent about 15 minutes examining Gates on the sideline before escorting him out of the main gym at the Cintas Center. He never returned.
After practice Mack confirmed that he was being put through the concussion protocol.
"It's 2015; If a guy gets hit in the head, you go through the concussion protocol," Mack said. "I think he was a little woozy, but he'll be fine."
Offseason Conditioning Paying Off
One of the biggest topics of conversation among the media members every year on the first day of practice is which players have changed their body the most.
On Monday, Edmond Sumner, Myles Davis and Trevon Bluiett stood out as the guys who had underwent the biggest transformation in the offseason. Sumner added an inch and 13 pounds from his listed height and weight a year ago, while Davis and Bluiett each trimmed seven pounds while reshaping their bodies .
"When Edmond Sumner got here he was around 155-160 pounds," Mack said. "Now he's over 180 consistently. He's also healthy. He's done a lot. He's worked really, really hard. A lot of our guys have."
He continued: "I think Trevon is in really good shape. He battled weight issues a year ago. For us to be a really good team he can't battle weight issues. He has to be more consistent than he was a year ago."
Mack also pointed out Sean O'Mara as a player who greatly benefitted from the offseason program.
"For Sean O'Mara this was the probably the first solid year he's had under his belt where he's only played basketball and only concentrated on basketball. I think he's in the best shape of his life."
Updated Heights and Weights:
Larry Austin - 6-2, 179 (Last year: 6-2, 174)
Jalen Reynolds - 6-10, 238 (6-10, 232)
James Farr 6-10, 244 (6-10, 247)
Edmond Sumner - 6-6, 183 (6-5, 170)
Trevon Bluiett - 6-6, 208 (6-6, 215)
Remy Abell - 6-4, 197 (6-4, 195)
Makinde London - 6-10, 220 (6-10, 210)
Myles Davis - 6-2, 188 (6-2, 195)
Kaiser Gates - 6-8, 217
RaShid Gaston - 6-9, 240
Sean O'Mara 6-10, 247 (6-10, 247)
JP Macura - 6-5, 203 (6-5, 190)
Mack Expects Plenty of Competition
While Xavier only has 11 scholarship players eligible to compete this year out of the allotted 13, there's not going to be any shortage of competition during practices.
"I think we have better players one through twelve than we did last year, and I say twelve because RaShid Gaston is out here battling every day," Mack said. "He's not allowed to play in games, so we'll only have 11 scholarship players that'll compete for minutes. I don't feel like there are any outliers that are really behind the eight-ball or won't see any playing time."
All 11 players look capable of contributing, and In most cases position battles probably won't be won before the start of the season. In addition to the starting point guard spot that's up for grabs, backup minutes on the wing and in the post are going to be in heavy demand.
"It's up to those guys to battle for it," Mack said. "There aren't many games where we play 11 guys equally. We've only practiced for a few days so it's too early to really tell, but our practices are always competitive."
"As we start to get into Musketeer Madness and go to our close scrimmage and play in our exhibition game, roles start to get a little more defined and it will heighten the sense of urgency for some guys that may have thought they were going to be playing more. I think our competition will stay really high throughout the year because of that."
The coaching staff set the tone early on Monday with a heavy emphasis on defense to start practice.
The Musketeers went old school with full court one-on-one zig-zag drills, and then did a cool drill that they call "no paint." It's halfcourt four-on-four, and the goal is for the defense to get the 30 second shot clock down to zero without letting the offense get into the box (an imaginary box that stretches across the lane and extends two-feet beyond the block in either direction) or the clock restarts. The lineup of James Farr, Jalen Reynolds, Myles Davis and Remy Abell were the best at the drill. After getting beat on his first chance, Larry Austin also stood out for the rest of the drill individually.
There were several other drills throughout practice, along with some instructional moments when the staff installed something new on offense. Below is a look at some of the highlights from those drills.
Four-on-Four full court drill working on transition defense:
- Macura drained a three from the right wing off of one pass.
- O'Mara scored against Gates with a pivot move where he dribbled toward the baseline and then spun back to the middle and finished with a left-handed baby hook over the front of the rim.
- London bullied Bluiett off of the bounce straight to the rim for an easy two.
- Gaston showed a great wall-up against O'Mara in the post, but Farr made a fadeaway falling down jumper in the short corner at the shot clock buzzer to end the possession.
- Austin got into the lane off the bounce and made a tough double-clutch finish after contact.
- Reynolds backed O'Mara down and made a smooth right hand hook.
Big man face-up shooting drill:
- It seemed like Farr didn't miss. He was by far the most impressive, hitting mid-range jumpers and threes. RaShid has a weird hitch in his jump shot, but he probably shot it the second best after Farr. O'Mara was a close third. London stayed with the perimeter players for this part of the practice where they did a spacing and 3-point shooting drill.
Full court live five-on-Five:
- Austin made Sumner fall with a crossover and then drove in for an easy two on the first possession.
- Sumner drove right side on Austin, spun at the elbow and swished a rise-up 15-footer. Ridiculously smooth.
- Trevon hit an 18-footer high on the left wing.
- Sumner used his burst to beat Austin down the left side of the lane off the bounce and finished with a nasty reverse layup.
- Sumner drove the lane, forced the corner defender to help off of Macura and hit him for a corner three.
- Abell shook a help defender with a nice jab-step after the catch and then hit a one-dribble pull-up jumper.
Half court five-on-five kill drill (coaches draw something up in between each play for offense, and defense tries to get three straight stops):
- Gaston made a great recovery off of a ballscreen to block O'Mara's finish.
- White team of Sumner, Abell, Macura, Gaston and Farr were the first group to get a kill. Sumner stripped Austin on the third possession to seal the third and final stop for that group.