Jim Young, Andrew Tie and Brian Geisinger are at ACC Operation Basketball all day, talking with players and coaches. Here are some of the interesting tidbits they picked up. Keep checking back throughout the day for updates.
In Search Of: Possessions
Last season’s Demon Deacons lost a lot of close games. Head coach Jeff Bzdelik believes that this was primarily because of possessions. In games where Wake Forest outhustled their opponents – collecting more 50-50 balls, taking charges, and thus creating additional possessions for the Deacons – they won those games. Every possession, according to the fourth-year coach, has to be valued.
Last year as a freshman, power forward Devin Thomas was a vacuum when it came to winning 50-50 balls. Thomas alone accounted for 29 percent of the team’s total loose ball collection. Bzdelik wants more effort and input from others, all up and down his roster.
If you ask Bzdelik, more possessions equal more wins.
Also Bzdelik noted several times that forward Travis McKie, who has spent a lot of his Wake Forest career playing as an undersized four, will spend the vast majority of his time playing small forward this season.
Canes Creating A New Rotation
The Miami Hurricanes return very little from last season’s ACC championship squad. Needless to say, the playing rotation is a work in progress.
“We have 10 players working very hard,” said Larranaga. “And they all think they’re going to start.”
It will take more than hard work to crack the starting five for the Hurricanes, though. Larranaga believes that every player on every ACC roster can get the job done:
“We’re not recruiting junk,” he said. “The difference is made by who can play the best, most efficient brand of basketball – it’s not all effort-based.”
Larranaga was also very vocal about what he thought of the new ACC. He thinks the league has the potential to get double-digit bids to the NCAA Tournament – maybe not next season, but certainly in the future. That’s a feat that has only happened once in the history of college basketball (the conference formerly known as the Big East in 2011).
But, as Larranaga put it: “Records are made to be broken, and the ACC is prime to break a lot of records.”
To Crash Or Not To Crash
Virginia coach Tony Bennett is looking at the balance between offensive rebounding and transition defense. Using instructional videos from former NBA coach Stan Van Gundy as a tool, Bennett is figuring out how much he wants his team to crash the boards.
“He said you’re either going to be a good offensive rebounding team or a good transition defense team,” Bennett said. “You can’t do both.”
Bennett said he thinks he’s got the players to be a little more effective on the glass.
“Anthony Gill’s a very good offensive rebounder,” Bennett said. “Mike Tobey goes to the glass, and he’s got 15 or 20 pounds more. Akil (Mitchell) is very active. Darion (Atkins) is healthy. Those are four guys that are all capable of getting on the glass just by raw athleticism.
“Individually, they can be better, but maybe there are some instances where say, ‘Alright we’re going to send one more to the glass,’ or maybe you’re playing someone who’s hurting you in transition, and we’re back to sending three or four back. That’s the balance you got to watch.”
It will be interesting to watch that play out this season, especially with Bennett having one of the most talented groups he’s had since he came to Virginia. Bennett has a reputation as a slow-paced, defensive-minded coach, but he said he’s open to adjusting his style to fit his roster.
Eagles Look To Anderson To Stretch D's
Boston College's second-leading scorer and leading rebounder – power forward Ryan Anderson – will, according to Donahue spend a lot of time at center again this season. Anderson, who as skilled and versatile a big man that you’ll find in the ACC, gives the Eagles the ability to spread court. If he’s at the five-spot, it creates mismatches, instantly, for BC.
This team has gobs of perimeter shooting – which Donahue, smartly, plans to use to his advantage. In the NBA, a greater deal of emphasis has been on court spacing and shooting in recent years. Now, spacing and pace differ between the college and professional ranks – there are shorter games and closer three-point lines in college. However, Donahue wants to put his most-skilled lineup on the court – regardless of size – as much as humanly possible, which is wise. This is why having a guy like Anderson, who can play multiple post positions and score in a variety of ways, is invaluable.
FSU (Not) Looking For A Hero
Michael Snaer saved Florida State last year on numerous occasions with clutch buzzer-beaters to win games. That said, the Seminoles still only ended up with a record of 18-16. Snaer has moved on, meaning FSU will need someone, or some people, to step up and fill that void. But coach Leonard Hamilton would rather there just not be a need for buzzer beaters at all.
“I’m hoping that we are far enough along that we don’t put ourselves in those situations where we have to get bailed out,” Hamilton said. “We work on those types of things every week, working on last-minute situations.
“With (Snaer) being the only senior on the team last year, with as many youngsters having the opportunity to play significant minutes, hopefully we can execute and not put ourselves in those situations.”
One of the prime candidates to replace some of Snaer’s play, be it scoring or leadership, is Ian Miller. The senior guard has shown scoring talent throughout his career but also battled injuries throughoutwho has battled injuries throughout, so the Seminoles may need to spread that responsibility throughout the rest of the backcourt.
******************10/16: 5:27 Update******************
BROWNWELL BELIEVES CLEMSON WILL PACK OFFENSIVE PUNCH
Some are skeptical of the offensive scoring power of the Tigers’ frontcourt...however, coach Brad Brownell is not among them. He believes the triumvirate of Josh Smith, Landry Nnoko, and Ibrahim Djambo will give Clemson enough scoring from the post to compliment perimeter stars K.J. McDaniels and Jordan Roper.
According to Brownell, all three can run the floor well, which will create easy scoring opportunities.
There was some additional good news on the injury front from Brownell: redshirt freshman wing forward Jaron Blossomgame, who broke his leg during his senior year of high school, is finally close to 100 percent. Blossomgame should be able to contribute to the Tigers as the season progresses.
PACK'S GOTTFRIED EMBRACES ACC'S BRAVE NEW WORLD
It’s a new ACC in 2013, and Mark Gottfried is ready to embrace it. “What’s impressed me with the teams we’ve brought in, including Louisville the next year, is you’ve got teams that have all made a commitment to basketball,” said N.C. State's head coach.
Having programs that expect to not only make in the NCAA Tournament – but to also go deep into March Madness – can only strengthen what was already a strong basketball conference, according to the third-year coach.
This new beefed-up conference is already paying dividends on the recruiting trail. “Kids get it. They’re excited about it. You can tell that there’s a different feel from young people (who) want to play in this league.” Gottfried doesn’t believe N.C. State will be the only school selling this new brand image. He knows that every other ACC school is pitching the same thing to potential recruits all across America.
Gottfried was also pressed on this season's expectations, which are rather watered-down compared to those of last season: “I mean, I didn’t pick us first last year – everybody else picked us. I didn’t come in here claiming we were going to conquer the world. It’s a position you find yourself in.”
This year’s roster for the Wolfpack is far less experienced – and Gottfried is going to take that as a positive. The team appears more eager to get in the gym and practice.
Gottfried also talked about this season’s offense, claiming that the Wolfpack will try to run more, and in the half court they will be far more perimeter-oriented.
EARLY LEADERSHIP ROLE FOR HOKIES' EMELOGU
Most team captains are either the best player on the court or a veteran leader who has been on the team for a while. However, Virginia Tech coach James Johnson made an unusual move by naming Ben Emelogu, a freshman guard/forward who hasn’t even played a minute for the Hokies, one of the captains.
“Ben is the type of person who has natural leadership skills and abilities,” Johnson said. “He got the respect from the players, and it was a little shocking to him, but he was doing leadership things without knowing it. It’s just something that’s natural to him.”
Johnson said the way he’s talked and communicated on the court is a good example of the way Emelogu already leads the team.
“(Being a team captain) is something you don’t get as a freshman,” Johnson said. “You usually walk in, and it’s like you got to earn your keep, but he demanded it and got the guys’ respect from day one."
WHAT CAN BROWN DO FOR MIAMI?
Rion Brown – the Hurricanes’ stud 6th man from last season – is the elder statesman of this year’s Hurricanes team. He knows it won’t be easy for Miami to replicate last season’s success; they will, however, put in the work to make a run for it.
The senior sniper knows that with Durand Scott and Trey Jones are gone from last season’s conference championhip team, his production from the wing will have to increase.
One of the seniors who departed from Miami’s 2012-2013 squad was Julian Gamble. The 6-11 F/C became known for his skills as a photobomber (Google: "Julian Gamble photobomber", if you’ve been living under a rock for the past 12 months). Brown was pressed on whom from this year’s team would take over this prodigious role. He said that know one has been appointed yet, and that it looks as though it’s going to be done by committee, Mike Shanahan-style: “We definitely have a lot of characters on this team.”
ADAMS' LONG ROAD BACK
Veteran wing Garrius Adams redshirted last year during what would’ve been his senior season. While it may have been tough to be stuck on the sidelines during Miami’s run, Adams believes he learned a lot during his experience. He tells us the game finally started to slow down for him, and that helped him learn the plays better, and where to be and what to do at all times: “I know exactly where to be; I know exactly how to tell my teammates – my freshmen – specifically where to be on the court.”
After his playing days are over, Adams would love to work in basketball – in particular, in an NBA front office. “That’s my dream job,” Adams said when referring to becoming an NBA general manager. “I love the game so much. I always want to be a part of it.
Recently, Miami coach Jim Larranaga was named to the school’s faculty – Adjunct Assistant Professor of Kinesiology and Sports Science. Adams thinks his coach will do an excellent job teaching students. However, he’s not so sure he’d sign-up for Larranaga 101: “I would let someone (else) take the class first, then I would ask them, and then I would think about taking it.” Spoken like a true veteran.
ANDERSON'S EXPERIENCE A REASON FOR BC EAGLES' HOPE?
Ryan Anderson: “I’m only 20 years old, but I feel like I’m an aged veteran.” This quote from the junior forward speaks volumes as to what life in the ACC has been like for Boston College the past three years. As the conference grows, so, too, have the Eagles. This year’s Eagles won’t be like your older siblings’ Eagles: Steve Donahue’s squad returns 96% of their scoring from last season.
BC fans will be excited to hear that Donahue wants his Eagles to play a lot faster this year. According to Anderson, when he first arrived in Chestnut Hill, he and the rest of the team were too young and not properly conditioned to play at an up-tempo pace. Now, however, he believes this year’s squad has the legs and firepower to score 70, 80 points per game.
Anderson’s role in the offense will be interesting to watch this season. His freshman season he was just trying to figure out where he fit in the flow of the team – this led to him attempting 84 3PT field goals. His sophomore season, though, he attempted only 14 3PT field goals. He says this was because he was forced in to playing the center position. With some depth now at the five-spot, we can expect Anderson to spend some time in the Land of Good 'n Plenty – behind the three-point line.
HANLAN LOOKING TO BUILD OFF ACC TOURNAMENT PERFORMANCE
If you follow the ACC, it will be a long time before you forget what Hanlan did at the ACC Tournament in 2013: 41 points against Georgia Tech on only 18 attempts.
Some view BC as a dark horse to contend in the mighty ACC this season, and with that comes some added pressure.
Hanlan: “Obviously, there are a lot more expectations this season.”
To help prepare for the 2013-14 season, Hanlan – the sophomore sensation – says most of the team stayed on campus this offseason to workout, and to play pickup ball together.
When he wasn’t in Boston this summer, Hanlan was busy traveling all over America, attending a variety of NBA players’ skill academies/camps, namely with LeBron James, Deron Williams, and Chris Paul. The hope is that these experiences will help mature him, while simultaneously slowing down the game for Hanlan.
WAKE NEEDS CODI MILLER-MCINTYRE TO STEP UP
The Demon Deacon point guard may only be a sophomore, but his experience and maturity is already vast. According to Miller-McIntyre, his senior season of high school ball (which he spent at Hargrave Military Academy) helped prep him for college life and living on his own.
When asked if he feels pressured to play-up to the level of point guard greatness of recent Wake Forest's past (Chris Paul, Taron Downey, Ish Smith), Miller-McIntyre was not phased: “As far as pressure goes, I really don’t think about it that much. I’m here for a reason – whatever that reason may be. I’m comfortable being here.”
Miller-McIntyre, who attended Chris Paul’s skills camp in Winston-Salem this summer, says learned a great deal from the world’s best point guard. However, if he had to take one thing away it would be: "knowing where your teammates are, knowing how they’re being guarded.”
Miller-McIntyre – already a savvy floor-leader last season as a freshman – will have an ever greater understanding of the court in 2013-14. Watch out, ACC.
MORE "FAM" JOINS THE ACC
The two Notre Dame players in attendance both played their high school ball in Maryland. So they are more than familiar with the league. Senior point guard Eric Atkins is a D.C. Assault alum, which means one of the 8,000 people in Nolan Smith's extended "family." And that means Atkins is more than familiar with the outgoing personality of Duke point guard Quinn Cook. Atkins was watching last year's Duke-Maryland game when Cook, after hitting a shot, backpedaled and shouted "THIS IS MY CITY!!!"
"I expected that from Quinn. I'm surprised that didn't come earlier in the game," Atkins said, while chuckling. "I really just laughed. I knew everybody was going to make a big deal about it, but that's just Quinn. He's one for the dramatic stuff like that."
Atkins was also backcourt mates with another Duke point guard, Tyler Thornton. They were on the same team since they were 11 years old. So Atkins is more than familiar with Thornton's ability to ... umm ... get the attention of opposing players.
"It's always been his style," Atkins said. "He's always gotten under the best player on the other team's skin, since we were kids. And I was laughing at that person while he did it."
AS GOOD AS ADVERTISED?
Jabari Parker won’t be a secret when he finally steps onto the court for Duke. Along with Andrew Wiggins, Parker is one of the most heralded freshmen in the country. Mississippi State transfer Rodney Hood and senior point guard Tyler Thornton said Parker has impressed them so far, but he’s still going through a learning process.
“He’s everything he’s hyped up to be,” said Hood, a 6-foot-8 forward who has also received a ton of hype before ever playing a minute for Duke. “A great athlete, a guy that plays unselfish. He loves to learn.”
Hood also made it clear Parker is just like any other freshman.
“He loves video games,” Hood said. “He loves to play the game, and that’s what his teammates respect about him. Me and some of the older guys are trying to shelter him and keep him in the gym.”
Thornton echoed many of the same ideas as Hood regarding Parker being just a freshman.
“All of our freshmen are still learning – learning the simple things – but they’re moving at a great pace,” Thornton said. “They still have a lot of room to get better.
“It’s tough making that adjustment having to be at 100 percent at practice everyday. It’s more mental than physical for a lot of guys. He’s like every other freshman and has to go through that change and figure that out.”
Warren Explains His Accurate Ways
Last season, N.C. State forward T.J. Warren shot 62.2% from the field, which led the conference, and was the second-highest mark in school history. So … how did he do that?
“I have a really good nose for finding the basketball, and just being around the rim and having a good touch," Warren explained. "You start making layups at a young age, so you just want to keep that up.”
See, kids it’s that easy!
The sophomore forward may be an underclassman, but he’s ready to assume a leadership role with this year’s Wolfpack. He says this year’s team is ready to turn a page on last season, and the freshmen are ready to roll:
“We’re going to be really fun to watch.”
Warren also thinks sophomore point guard Tyler Lewis is ready to make a big jump this season.
“He’s like a wizard," Warren said of Lewis. "His vision is unbelievable. He’s just so confident with the basketball; it’s really fun to watch.”
"Big Chunky" & "Chiseled Mountain"
North Carolina is in need of someone to step up at center to complement James Michael McAdoo in the frontcourt. The obvious candidate is sophomore Joel James, who struggled during his freshman year but has the potential to contribute. Coach Roy Williams recently called James a “chiseled mountain.”
James’ primary challenger will be frosh Kennedy Meeks out of Charlotte. When fellow sophomore big man Brice Johnson tried to compare freshman center Kennedy Meeks to Joel, he didn’t have as creative of a nickname.
“I just call him ‘Big Meeks,’” said Johnson, who is actively trying to add pounds to his thin frame.. “Kennedy’s not chiseled, but he’s got a little more chunkiness to him. I probably would call him ‘Big Chunky’ or something. He’s slimming down, but he’s still a big guy.”
Meeks comes in at a listed 290 pounds, as compared to James at 280. Johnson said he’s been impressed with James’ focus on slimming down and getting stronger.
“Joel is like an ox,” Johnson said. “When he first got here, you could tell he had a little bit of fat on him, but now you don’t see any fat.”
One of the two – whether it’s Joel “Chiseled Mountain” James or Kennedy “Big Chunky” Meeks – will need to step up if UNC wants to return to prominence this year.
Miami Game A Springboard for Lewis
When Tyler Lewis got the call last season, the conditions were hardly ideal. Starting point guard Lorenzo Brown was out with an injury and Miami - the eventual ACC champion - was in town. But Lewis made the most of his big chance ... and then some.
“That game I definitely had to have a different mindset coming into it. I know i was going to be playing a lot more, and step up.”
Step up he did, to the tune of 16 points, five assists, and 8-of-9 from the free throw line. The Pack fell just short – 79-78 – but Lewis said that game helped grow his confidence, and let him know that he could produce at a high level.
This offseason Lewis focused on getting stronger, which he believes will have a positive impact on his defense. He put on 15 pounds, and is up to 172 now.
“I’m able to take contact better, be able to body my guy up on defense.”
Bahamas And Basketball
A trip to the Bahamas is never a bad thing. But in the case of Maryland and its preseason trip to the Caribbean, it was also a great experience on the court.
“It got us better on the court," said junior swingman Nick Faust. "Guys got to learn about each other, how they play, and things like that. It’s kind of like having a step ahead before real practices.”
Maryland has a really deep core at the wing position: Faust, Dez Wells, and Jake Layman. Faust really likes their chemistry, and believes that each player brings something different to the team. Wells is the slasher and driver, while Layman provides a scoring punch from the perimeter with his shooting abilities. This should allow the Terps to be balanced on offense, and play at various tempos.
Faust closed out his sophomore campaign with a bang last season: averaging 12.4 ppg over the last 12 games, shootin .467 (49-105) from the field and .440 (22-50) from 3-point in that span. He believes the offseason work he put in will allow him to keep that up:
“That’s more so just staying in the gym. And having that competitive mind, wanting to get better, and just pushing myself.”
Clemson's K.J. McDaniels averaged a conference-best 2.1 blocks last season – even though he’s a wing forward. He says that ability comes naturally.
"I’ve always had that instinct to be aggressive on both sides, and being a little undersized for a shot-blocker is a shock to the other team," McDaniels explained. It puts more fear in their minds when going to the basket.”
Bu even though McDaniels is known as a skywalker, he doesn't have the highest vertical leap on the team. That honor belongs to 5-11 sophomore guard Jordan Roper, who was measured with a 40-inch vertical leap.
Roper, who has won several dunk contests, says his ability to elevate usually catches observers off guard. Yes, he can throw down a windmill dunk. He has not, however, attempted one in a game. Just considering the hypothetical scenario of missing a highlight reel dunk and then having to face an irate Brad Brownell is an effective deterrent.
"I don't even want to think of that," Roper said.
Roper has, however thrown down several dunks in games. And, even more impressively, he's dunked over McDaniels in practice.
"Yeah, we've flushed on each other," McDaniels confirmed.