Thuds and grunts echoed at Rhodes Arena as the University of Akron men’s basketball team took to the court Friday morning for its first practice.

Zips basketball coach Keith Dambrot admitted it felt a little strange to practice basketball when the football season is just kicking into high gear. However, a UA exhibition game is looming Nov. 1 against Bluffton — far before the end of pigskin play.

In the six months since the Zips’ 2012-13 season ended, change is everywhere.

Most obvious is the absence of 7-foot center Zeke Marshall, who graduated last spring and is playing professional basketball in Poland.

Former Zips guard Brian Walsh is now a graduate assistant with the basketball team.

Star point guard Alex Abreu was suspended last spring and left UA after pleading guilty to felony drug trafficking.

One of the major questions this fall will be who lead the team from as point guard.

That will come from a combination of junior college transfer Nyles Evans (15.7 points, 3.4 rebounds, 3.3 assists at Brevard Community College) and Carmelo Betancourt.

“I’m not too worried about that position, really,” Dambrot said. “I think the biggest thing is can they make as many big shots as Alex. Alex made a lot of big shots.”

The point-guard position will eventually sort itself out, but Evans, a former North Canton Hoover standout, realizes that some of the pressure will fall on him.

“Some people, their first thought was now he’s happy. Alex is gone,” he said. “Well, actually I wasn’t. I was really a little bit sad over that because I wanted to play along with him. He was a great point guard — very unselfish. After it happened, I got over it.”

Dambrot said Evans still needs to work on conditioning and learning the Zips system.

Not back to business

One concern as the Zips begin preparations for the season is the back of wingman Jake Kretzer (5.7 points, 3.2 rebounds, two assists), who dealt with the issue last year. Kretzer, a sophomore, hasn’t done much in the way of working out because of a bulging disc in his back.

“He’s frustrated and he wants to play,” Dambrot said.

Kretzer was dressed in shorts but not a jersey as he watched practice, supporting his teammates from off the court as they went through their assorted paces.

Dambrot was noncommittal about when Kretzer might play, but said that he is expected to return to the court.

“We’re going to get him back,” Dambrot said. “I really believe we’re going to get him back. To what extent is the issue. If he can play, he’s going to play.”

Stepping up

Some conclusions can be reached from simple observation at practice. Case in point: Demetrius Treadwell will not only lead by example, but he will lead with his words.

He had no qualms about pulling Evans aside and talking to him about something that transpired on the court. Lest anyone believe it was a scolding — don’t. It was a simple conversation where he offered advice.

“I think obviously Tree is going to be one of the leaders and I think eventually Nyles will take some of the leadership [role],” Dambrot said.

Injury update

Carmelo Betancourt, who looks leaner and more muscular this fall, appears to be healed from a fractured foot he suffered in the summer. He ran fine in practice.

George M. Thomas can be reached at gmthomas@thebeaconjournal.com. Read the Zips blog at https://ohio.com/zips. Follow him on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/GeorgeThomasABJ and on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/sports.abj.