Three weeks into practice, and just over a week prior to the season opener, I was able to stop by the Hagan yesterday and take in an hour of practice. I'll use this entry to post my observations for those of you that need your fix a week before the season opener at home against Western Kentucky.
All players were present for practice, and all seemed healthy. During the course of the practice, Hofstra transfer and current redshirt Halil Kanacevic took an elbow to the face and had to sit out a few minutes. Freshman Daryus Quarles also took a stray elbow to the head, forcing him to sit out a few minutes. Quarles actually took the elbow to the face and wanted to stay in, but was instructed to have someone sub in for him for the remainder of the drill.
At the beginning of practice, head coach Phil Martelli split up the team by position: points, wings, and bigs. The points were senior Charoy Bentley, sophomores Tay Jones and Justin Crosgile, and freshman Patrick Swilling Jr. The wings were freshmen Daryus Quarles, Langston Galloway, Ron Roberts, and walk-on Taylor Trevisan. Finally, the bigs were senior Idris Hilliard, junior Todd O'Brien, sophomore Carl Baptiste, Halil Kanacevic, and freshman CJ Aiken. Once split up by position, players worked on a ball-handling drill.
In a shooting drill later in practice, the team was split into two groups of 4 and a group of 5. Some observations from the drill. The team of Ron Roberts, Justin Crosgile, Pat Swilling Jr, and Todd O'Brien was really impressive. Throughout practice yesterday, I was impressed with Justin's jumper. As I've mentioned before, when Swilling is in the zone, he can be a terrific perimeter shooter. Todd is a steady hand from around 15 feet. Roberts also demonstrated an ability to knock down some jumpers. He continues to quickly improve just about every facet of his game, especially his jumper and his handle. CJ Aiken, Daryus Quarles, and Carl Baptiste also stood out in the shooting exercise.
Now for some other random observations:
CJ Aiken had a tremendous block in a fast-break drill. In that drill, he altered the possessions a number of other times because players knew that he was in the paint. His timing and athleticism are really unique and remarkable.
Carl Baptiste impressed me again. He received praise from the coaches on a couple occasions and was in position, and very vocal, on the defensive side of the ball. I'm sure that he knows that it will be a battle for minutes this year with Roberts and CJ now on the roster. He looks more than ready to fight for those minutes. His jumper was very solid.
Tay Jones and Justin Crosgile both looked very focused. As opposed to practices last year where they were often being corrected and explicitly told what to do on the court, they seemed to have a much firmer grasp this year. Both practiced very hard and both knocked down shots from 3, something they will both have to do this season to keep defenses honest.
Idris Hilliard is one of two seniors this year and seems to be taking a more vocal role this year. As I've mentioned before, after the two scrimmages, Idris looks like he spent a lot of his summer working on his perimeter shot. The work seems to be paying off, as he does seem like a legitimate shooting threat when he gets the ball almost all the way out to 3.
Langston Galloway doesn't look like a freshman. His maturity on the court is well beyond his years. He also has a very business-like approach to the game. Night in and night out, I truly feel like he is a threat to lead the team in scoring. More than any of the other freshman, he may be the most consistent this season. Not that I take the recruiting sites all that seriously, but I'm always left scratching my head wondering how there are 150 freshmen in the country better than him. Frankly, there aren't.
I already said a number of positive things about Ron Roberts, but he continues to surprise me. Having never seen him play prior to this summer, I expected the athleticism and tenacity on the boards. Although his handle isn't great, it's better than I expected. Ditto on his jumper. His ceiling is incredibly high.
Todd O'Brien, once again, is the best back-to-the-basket threat on the team. He showed off some nice moves in the post yesterday. With Idris, Carl Baptiste, Roberts, and CJ also fighting for minutes in the frontcourt, I would be shocked if Todd plays the 23 minutes per game that he did last year. That's not an indictment on him, but more a sign of how talented the freshmen are and the apparent improvement in Carl Baptiste.
Daryus Quarles continues to look like someone who will get significant minutes at the wing this year. After being ineligible to play last year after transferring back to Paulsboro from Life Center Academy, he is likely still getting fully back into game shape. Daryus again showed off a nice mid-range game yesterday in practice, and is one of the better perimeter shooters on the team. In the fast-break drill, he was also able to use his length to finish around the basket.
Pat Swilling is someone who may earn some minutes at the point this year, based on his practice yesterday. Due to his size and strength, he is able to bully his way into the paint against other guards. Once in the paint, he is able to finish himself or distribute the ball. He shot the ball well again yesterday from deep as well.
Halil will be a major factor next year when he is eligible to suit up. He will be able to plug right into the power forward spot with the graduation of Idris. While Idris, Carl Baptiste, CJ Aiken, and even Ron Roberts have a nice shooting touch out to 15 or 17 feet, Halil is purely a post player. He will excel in and around the basket when he uses his strength and deceptive athleticism to rebound and score.
Charoy earned some praise from the coaches throughout practice for doing exactly what was instructed. With Langston and Patrick on campus this year, in addition to Justin and Tay, minutes will be hard to come by for Charoy, but I can still see him being used situationally.
As for the coaches, the practice had a very positive tone. All 4 coaches were involved. The general vibe of the practice was upbeat though. It actually contrasted a little with practices over the past couple of years. There was a lot of positive feedback, praise, and constructive criticism.
This practice served as a nice glimpse into the future of the Hawks team. The coaches will likely have a different approach to this team than they did with last year's, since there are 5 freshman and all will likely see significant minutes. It will be an entertaining season with some growing pains and some flashes of brilliance.