When Xavier first landed Florida A&M transfer Malcolm Bernard, it seemed like the coaching staff was just adding some insurance and depth. Now, with Myles Davis suspended indefinitely, Bernard's role looks much more important.
Bernard made a great first impression on Monday.
The fifth-year senior stood out on both ends of the court, typically by playing with tremendous effort. If one were to make power rankings for first day practice performance, he would likely be ranked first.
"Malcolm is going to be a real solid addition to our team," Xavier coach Chris Mack said. "We haven't had a ton of fifth-year guys. Just the experience of being a college player for four years… There are things in our system that he obviously has to learn, but he's a player and he can do it on both sides of the ball."
In addition to playing hard, Bernard was attentive when the coaches pulled him aside and it looked like he quickly corrected himself after making mistakes. He can really run in transition and his effort on defense led to some of the days more impressive plays.
"He's a really good defender," Mack said." He has great instincts, can steal the ball. And I just think he's very versatile on offense. He can make a shot, he gets in the lane, and he does a really good job in transition. Like our other guys, he's really unselfish so he's a great addition."
Other First Impressions:
Tyrique Jones - He's undersized in terms of height but he has an impressive frame with a wide, strong upper body and a thin waistline. It was the first day and I didn't watch the bigs during skill work, so I don't have too many takeaways for him. He's definitely going to need to improve his free throw shooting from what I saw, though.
Quentin Goodin - The coaches are definitely pushing him hard, knowing how important he's going to be to this team. They stopped him constantly throughout practice to correct him on small details. My biggest takeaway from day one about Goodin was how much fun it will be watching his physical toughness and athleticism in tandem with Edmond Sumner. I think it will make Sumner better in practice. No one else on the roster is really close to matching Sumner's quickness. Goodin can, and he's really competitive which makes up for some of his freshman mistakes.
Speaking of Goodin and Sumner
It looks like the plan is for Goodin to rotate in at the point guard spot, with Sumner sliding to shooting guard when they are playing together.
Mack said on Monday that Goodin is strictly learning the point guard position for right now.
"Generally we try to limit freshman to learning one position," Mack said. "We can slide Ed over to the two when Quentin comes in and that keeps Quentin's learning curve down. Over time he'll play both positions... I don't know about this year."
The notion of those two on the court at the same time is exciting for the coaches because of their ability to run in transition.
"Having Ed get up the floor when we go defense to offense is a really good thing," Mack said. "You advance pass it to him and he's obviously a blur in transition - now he has the ball on the wing in attack mode and it makes us even faster."
"There's a lot of good to having Ed on the ball and off the ball, and we're going to make him as versatile as we can."
Who lost weight? Who got bigger and stronger? Physical appearance is always the hot topic on day one of practice.
Kaiser Gates clearly made the biggest jump from last year, adding 11 much-needed pounds to his frame according to the new roster listings. The two other guys who really stood out were Trevon Bluiett and Sean O'Mara.
Bluiett only dropped three pounds according to his listed weights, but he definitely looks slimmer in the midsection. He told reporters after practice that he was playing closer to 215 last year and is actually at 200 right now. The challenge for him will be keeping it off during the season when he's not conditioning as hard. O'Mara only lost two pounds according to his listing from last year, but he definitely looks like he's reshaped his body during the offseason. Coach Mack had him on the Insanity workout plan and it paid off.
Finally, Goodin looks like a junior or senior in terms of his body. He is absolutely jacked and is probably the most well put together player on the team not named RaShid Gaston.
Updated Heights and Weights
Tyrique Jones 6-9, 243 (Last year: n/a)
Quentin Goodin 6-4, 194 (n/a)
Edmond Sumner 6-6, 186 (6-6, 183)
Trevon Bluiett 6-6, 205 (6-6, 208)
Malcolm Bernard 6-6, 202 (6-6, 190)
Myles Davis 6-2, 187 (6-2, 188)
Kaiser Gates 6-8, 217 (6-8, 228)
RaShid Gaston 6-9, 239 (6-9, 240)
Sean O'Mara 6-10, 245 (6-10, 247)
JP Macura 6-5, 203 (6-5, 203)
With only nine recruited scholarship players available to practice, Xavier has a few extra walk-ons this year. In addition to Tim Stainbrook and Alex Bergen, who were on the team last year, the Musketeers also kept Conor Peterson, Leighton Schrand and Cullen Barr from walk-on tryouts.
Peterson played at Brewster Academy and looks to be the most impressive of the group. He has good length for a wing at 6-foot-6, and he looks fairly athletic. Add in a decent jumpshot and he looks like he could be a Tim Stainbrook level walk-on, if not better. He'll definitely have to add a lot of weight over the next few years to bang with scholarship guys daily in practice, but he should help make them better in the future. Schrand is a very small (6-0, 155) guard that had an excellent career at local Holy Cross High School in Covington last year. Schrand is a good ballhandler and a knockdown shooter with range. Barr is a 6-foot-7, 230-pound senior at Xavier. He gives them a big body for dummy defense against the post players.
During the skill work portion of practice, the bigs and guards split up on opposite ends of the court and work with their position coaches. On Monday, I spent my time watching the guards, who were doing various spacing and shooting drills. I always love how they do this because they use familiar actions from their offensive system to set up the shots, and the players get a ton of reps while going game speed. I paid particular attention to Quentin Goodin and Malcolm Bernard on the first day because both of those guys are new and shooting is a major question mark for both players. Goodin was 4-for-15 (26.6%) during this portion, while Bernard was 6-for-15 (40%).
Early practices are always very instructional, but Xavier's staff makes it a point to keep things as competitive as possible. A lot of times when they work on specific points of emphasis, they'll do it within a live drill where players are playing full speed.
Here are some highlights from those drills...
Four-on-Four Fullcourt (up-and-back working on transition defense):
- Bernard blocked O'Mara at the rim coming from the help side
- Bluiett buried a quick transition three from the right wing
- Sumner nailed a three from the top of the key with Goodin in his face
- Goodin kept Sumner in front of him on a drive and Bluiett swiped him from a help position
- Macura hit a deep three from the right wing off of one pass
- Sumner made a defender fall with a stepback between the legs and swished a three from the top of the key
- Bernard sliced into the lane and finished with a finger roll in transition
Four-on-Four Halfcourt (working on halfcourt defense)
- Macura used a screen to turn the corner and got all the way to the rim for a layup
- O'Mara buried Gaston in the post and finished over the top of him
- Sumner used his quickness to blow past two defenders for an easy two
Five-on-Five Fullcourt (up-and-back then coaches huddle both teams before resetting)
- Sumner found O'Mara late in the shot clock with a beautiful assist for an easy layup
- Bernard made a nice contested finish in transition after a great advance pass from Macura
- Bernard hit a three from the left wing late in the shot clock
- Gaston moved some bodies to get a stick back
- Bernard dropped weak side and stole a bounce pass from Sumner to Gaston that would have been an easy two