Practice. Anyone who plays a sport on any sort of competitive level will say practice is of fundamental and crucial importance. Yet, there is rarely much of a focus on practice, as the games are what show up in the win/loss record. Probably the most talk you’ve heard about practice is the famous rant by Allen Iverson, which wasn’t exactly flattering.
So we here at The Signal decided to focus on practice for a moment. We attended one practice for each of the men’s and women’s basketball teams and wrote about them, in the hopes that we could, if even for a moment, make practice seem as important as it is.
The first 20 minutes of the women’s practice is devoted to individual preparation and warm-up. The mood is light, and the players’ laughter is infectious in the early going, but it’s also clear that everyone knows it’s getting to be time to get down to business, and you can see the players getting into their zones.
Head coach Dawn Henderson makes her rounds, observing and giving players tips individually, occasionally reminding everyone of different fundamentals to practice, whether it is power layups, free throws or catching and shooting in a rhythm.
The men begin practice before their coaches even walk through the door. They stretch, jog and shoot, but most of all, they talk. They talk about nothing in particular, just as any group of friends would. The talk changes once the coaches arrive and now focuses exclusively on basketball, but it never really stops — the team is all about communication, and communicate they do. The drills in the early going confirm this, as they involve mostly passing in rhythm, and any player who isn’t talking to his teammates is likely to miss his mark.
Having played five games in the last week and a half, Henderson warns that the team is exhausted. However, the effort and attention is clearly there. The girls are looking sharp, shooting the lights out, making all of their lefty layups and doing a lot of communicating with each other on both ends of the floor in different situational drills, but especially defensively.
Given the Lions had a game the next day, a fair amount of practice was devoted to scouting the opponent and talking about their strengths and weaknesses and discussing the various plans that would need to be executed in order to put themselves in a good position to come out on top.
Once the men have warmed up, the real practice begins. Head coach Kelly Williams quickly describes to his team what their next opponent will try to do and splits the team into smaller groups to scrimmage against each other while mimicking what that next opponent will do, hoping to be prepared once game time comes.
The scrimmages are intense — the players don’t hold anything back, and those who don’t see as much playing time are eager to push the starters as hard as they can.
“My favorite part of practice is (to) push the starters. It feels good to know that you can make them better in practice while just playing basketball,” freshman guard T.J. Von Bradsky said.
Watching the team practice, even in the moments of intense focus and fierce competition, it’s clear that these girls’ love for one another and togetherness is what makes them such a tough team to beat once the game has tipped off.
After all the on-court practicing was finished, Henderson passed out scouting reports to the players that were thicker than some textbooks, and they all sat together in a circle, going over the opposing team’s player tendencies and what needed to be done to take away their strengths.
As the men continue to play each other, it is interesting to see the dynamics between starters and bench players — mostly because it is so hard to tell who is who. The players all intermingle in the scrimmages and support each other equally. Coach Williams treats every player the same way — tough but fair — and is just as likely to praise or scold (most often praise) a starter as he is a guy who rarely sees game time.
“Coach talks every day about how he has trust in everybody, one through 15 minutes, on the bench,” freshman forward Patrick Zanzalari said. “And how he has no problem calling in anybody at any time, so during practice he doesn’t treat that any differently, anybody could be anywhere at any time.”
At the conclusion of practice, co-captains Liz West and Tiffany DeTulio laughed and reminisced about the team’s time spent in Florida over winter break, recalling an instance when assistant coach Cindy Astore took it upon herself to switch roles and become the team’s bus driver as well as lead vocalist, covering 50 Cent’s “In Da Club” to help celebrate head coach Dawn Henderson’s birthday. The duo even dropped a “Go shorty, it’s your birthday!” before breaking out in laughter once again.
By the time the men’s practice starts winding down, the players are noticeably winded, just as they are after games. The intensity of the practice was very game-like, only with shorter breaks and no time on the bench. Every drill is designed to simulate in-game scenarios, and every player is expected to bring the same focus to practice as they do to games.
“Coach really expects everyone to bring energy and effort every day, he says that we’re all college basketball players and that we need to give our best effort every day, regardless of whether we’re bench players or starters,” freshman guard Pete Heltzel said.
West and DeTulio’s favorite part about practice is the 20-minute individual warm-up to start and the dynamic stretches immediately following.
“The warm-up gives us a chance to get into the right mindset and do whatever we need to get ready, whether it be dribbling, shooting or just getting loose,” DeTulio said.
The co-captains also agreed that the two things they’ll miss most next year once they’ve graduated and moved on will be playing basketball and all the other girls on the team who they’ve become so close to during their time here.
The men’s practice ends in a huddle, with every player putting their hands together to yell as a group, just like they do before every game. The team members walk off, some heading to class and some heading to dinner, each one with a slight grin on his face. Game day is tomorrow, and the team is ready.
As the men leave, the women enter. The two teams don’t say much to each other, but a few individuals exchange pleasantries. These teams are on opposite sides of the same story: One is at the end while the other is just beginning. What the two have in common is that both are ready to play.