Akron's first practice of the season was probably its longest.
For three hours and 15 minutes, Keith Dambrot showed (and told about) the mental toughness he expects from the young Zips.
Here is a rundown of my scribble-filled notebook...
My favorite part of practice was the one-on-one drill.
Ronnie Steward vs.
Jimmy Conyers was a great battle. Steward is very quick, but Conyers is a sure defender.
It didn't take long before Dambrot lost his voice and started sounding like
Emilio Estevez, circa The Mighty Ducks. However, Dambrot's voice somehow strengthened as practice proceeded. It must have been the Diet Pepsi. If this guy ever makes it really big, there is a treasure trove of cash from PepsiCo waiting for him.
The team enigma used to be Conyers, but I don't think he's an enigma anymore. I think he was overhyped as an offensive star when, in fact, his defense was what makes him stand out. In Conyers' defense, however, he still has two more seasons in Akron's program. It is not unusual for a player to wait until his junior year to feel comfortable on offense. Also in his defense, I think Dambrot is harder on him than most players. After Conyers jacked up an airball from the corner, Dambrot stopped practice and yelled: "We want Jimmy Conyers to shoot open shots. We want Jimmy Conyers to play good defense. We don't want Jimmy Conyers to reinvent the wheel."
The new team enigma is
Steve Swiech. This guy has a shot that would make you snicker at the gym. HOWEVER, he has good touch and footwork. Maybe he can be the
Jim Furyk of the Zips. It's also possible that he will be nothing more than a stiff. I can't figure it out yet. Regardless of what he eventually becomes,
Jeff Boals wants another year to teach him before releasing him to Dambrot's rotation.
On Rhodes Arena's glass divider between the lower bowl and the bleachers, there are plenty of Nike/LeBron decals. Next to the scoreboard, however, there is a giant adidas sign. Neither corporation has its mark on the basketball floor. My guess is the floor is neutral territory, because the women's basketball and volleyball teams are still under the adidas flag.
The team unveiled some Nike warmups. They looked OK, I guess. The design was nothing special. From what I hear, though, the shoes are really cool. This year's jerseys are from Nike, but they are not the
LeBron James sub-brand. You won't see the LeBron jerseys until next season.
This season, each of you will probably look on the bench and see a short white guy and say, "Hmm... who is that?" It's probably
Kyle Peterson. He is a walk-on from Florida. Your next question is probably, "What is a walk-on from Florida doing at Akron?" He has family here, and he is specializing in some part of the business school in which Akron excels.
Nate Linhart grew an inch over the summer. He is now 6-8. If he was thicker, he might have a chance to play in the association. At his weight, however, there is no hope for him guarding a power forward in the post.
For about 15 minutes, the team used a yellow basketball that was heavier than a normal ball. Supposedly, it helps you pass better. (I was always told to stay away from the weighted balls in baseball.)
A 2010 recruiting target was present at the practice. As usual, Boals was schmoozing him and his family. I could be wrong, but I think it was
Josh Sewell, a
forward from Louisville with multiple offers.
I chatted with
Elton Alexander from the PD for a little bit. We had a disagreement about the effectiveness of MAC referees. However, we agreed on one thing: Dambrot needs to play
Darryl Roberts some serious minutes. I see Roberts as a
Dru Joyce waiting to happen. He steadies the game nicely while running the point.
I know you are all wondering about the freshmen, so here is a rundown...
Nikola Cvetinovic -- The upside: He is bigger than I expected. He is about Linhart's height with a lot more bulk. He has a strong motor and good work ethic. He made sure he finished finish first in the wind sprints at the end of practice. He appears to move smoothly within the offense when he doesn't have the ball. He is also vocal on the court. That showed me some basketball IQ. The downside: He does not look confident with the ball. Also, he celebrates like a Eastern European (stiff high-fives and cheesy exclamations of joy). Redshirt likelihood: 60%.
Brett McClanahan -- The upside: He has a sweet stroke. No doubt about it. There is certainly a place for shooters like him in the MAC. I watched him catch and drill a 3 from the corner. The downside: He is quite short. He is listed as 6-foot-4, but I don't believe that at all. If McClanahan was playing pick-up games at the Rec Center, he wouldn't get picked until the fourth or fifth go-around. If he is going to succeed in the MAC, he will have to create his own shot. I didn't see enough of him to figure out whether he can do that. Redshirt likelihood: 95%.
Ronnie Steward -- The upside: He is super quick, and so is the release on his shot. If he is making shots, there is literally no stopping him. He is too speedy to guard closely. He also made good decisions with the ball while slashing through the paint. On defense, he is a hornet. He was guarding
Humpty Hitchens close enough to scrape nipples. Steward is going to cause a lot of turnovers this season. The downside: I didn't get to see much of his ball handling. Dambrot said it will take some time for him to learn to run point guard. His shooting is still in the development stage. Every day this school year, however, he has taken additional shots to improve. Redshirt likelihood: 1%.
Humpty Hitchens -- The upside: The coaching staff thinks he's an impact player this season. Remember how he was practically chaffing chests with Steward? Well, Hitchens confidently maintained his dribble the whole time. I was thoroughly entertained. The downside: As practice wore on Hitchens got sloppy. He threw some careless passes. He let
Alex Sullivan rip him a couple times coming across half court. Also, his shot is not very pretty. It is an excruciatingly long release that is going to get packed quite a bit. (Dambrot calls it a "slingshot.") I see Steward getting more playing time early in the year. Redshirt likelihood: 5%.
Alex Sullivan -- The upside: He put good pressure on the ball. The downside: Sullivan played with the third stringers, so I didn't see much of him. He is really short, though. Redshirt likelihood: 93%.
Andrew Parrish -- The upside: On paper, he looks like a BCS recruit. He is 6-8 with long arms and a strong build. I saw his bounciness as he snatched a rebound in traffic. His upside is as high as anyone's on the team. The downside: He was playing with Sullivan's group, so I did not catch much of his action either. Redshirt likelihood: 75%.
As I sat in the near empty Rhodes Arena, I thought to myself about last year's game against Kent State. Thousands of people were going crazy. Within 30 seconds, the stands went from depressed to elated to depressed again, because of the Zips' furious comeback, then
Al Fisher's dagger 3. It's amazing to me that the empty gym was the same place as that event. Man, I can't wait for basketball season.