There was an aura of excitement and a sense of lofty expectations in the Ryan Center on Saturday morning. Fans of all ages were there to catch a first look of the University of Rhode Island men’s basketball team during an open practice where the mantra was et it right.”
The NCAA Tournament hopefuls took the court and worked on various drills like passing around the perimeter, on-ball defense and four-on-four scrimmages. It is difficult to evaluate a team in practice, as nothing can compare to the unpredictability of in-game action. But the Rams, led by their intense motivator, head coach Dan Hurley, were focused and looked fairly sharp. Hurley did not relent, specifically instructing his players to make crisper passes.
The new faces on the roster seemed comfortable, but eager to prove themselves just the same. Everyone seems to buy into the emphasis on team rather than individual accolades, which would be rather easy to do with the abundance of talent.
The intrigued faces of spectators, especially the younger generation, who “oohed” and “aahed” at the tremendous power displayed by junior forward Hassan Martin as he emphatically slammed one home, illustrates the high expectations for the 2015-16 season. Memphis transfer Kuran Iverson also garnered a lot of attention with the anticipation of his debut. He figures to add length, with the possibility of complementing Martin as another shot blocker, but mainly he should provide the team with a much needed boost offensively.
Some players noticeably improved, among them was point guard Jarvis Garret, whose upgraded jump shot could make him a viable offensive option in his sophomore season. He pulled-up several times from beyond the arc and drained three-pointers with the utmost confidence. It would seem with Garret’s progress and the already existing offensive prowess of junior E.C. Matthews and sophomore Jared Terrell, joined by the addition of Towson University transfer Four McGlynn, the Rams could have more of an offensive identity this season.
“Offensive basketball is something that has lagged behind our great defense the last couple years,” Hurley said. “Our guards are great, our skilled forwards – Kuran, Hassan – they look great right now. Our offense could go from something that has been a little bit of a struggle for us to now something that’s a strength.”
A point of concern could be the managing of big men. The news of former big man recruit Leroy Butts de-committing will likely mean an increased role for a pair of seniors, Earl Watson, who served the role of defensive specialist last year and Ifeanyi Onyekaba. The possibility of Martin getting into foul trouble could be worrisome, as neither player has too much experience on the court. But it is likely that they would be able to just focus on the glass and playing shut-down defense with the variety of scoring options.
The open practice turned out to be quite the spectacle, as a well-attended crowd came out to support their team. It was a good experience for the team as well.
“It gives fans to see how hard our guys practice,” Hurley said. “It gets a little bit of the jitters out. It’s good for our guys to get out and play in front of people, especially guys that are freshmen, or guys like Four or Kuran who haven’t played for us yet.”
Overall, the practice showed that the team is gelling well. They have plenty of depth, more offensive weapons and an air of professionalism as they continue to prepare for the upcoming season, where anything less than a trip to the big dance will be a failure. That belief is reinforced by the fervent fan base that sacrificed sleeping in to catch a glimpse at a team loaded with potential.