To say that this is a "new" team is an understatement. This is truly an almost entirely new team! The Hurricanes lost their top six players from last year, with senior wing Rion Brown having started just six games last season, and only one during the conference season. The Hurricanes added three freshmen, a junior college transfer, and a graduate transfer to a team returning four contributors from last year, as well as senior wing Garrius Adams after an injury redshirt year. This Canes team is truly learning how to play together as a unit for the very first time, with new roles and responsibilities. Whereas last year's run was built around beefy paint presences combined with the dynamic point guard play of Shane Larkin, this year's team looks to have a different flavor, with a balance towards speed, length and athleticism.
Full practice started in late September for the first time this year, and Coach Konkol shared his thoughts on how the team looked after 23 full practices to date.
"Any time you've got such a large number of guys that are here for the first time, or for the first season, rather, of being thrust into new roles it's going to take a little time to figure out what everyone's best at and how best to mesh everyone's strengths together," Konkol explained. "We've had some great, great practices. We're excited. We're excited about playing other people [rather than intrasquad scrimmages]."
Though the team is anxious to play competitive games against other schools, practices are not lacking in intensity. "We've had very competitive practices," Konkol said. "We've got a very hard-working, blue collar group. These are guys that really like to be in the gym, they like to practice, they want to get better. These are guys that they really want to improve, guys that are very serious about their games. We enjoy that. We enjoy these guys."
Konkol says there are limits to what can be gleaned from the repetition and routine of practice. "You start to see things repeat themselves and you start to really figure out guy's games and what they're best at" in competitive games.
Adams, Brown, Akpejiori and Swoope are all expected to step up and contribute on the court as seniors, but Konkol told us that their number one job is to help the new players adapt.
"The first thing we expect is great leadership," Konkol explained. "They've been in the program for two years. They know what we expect. We expect them to lead the seven new individuals in the program and show them what we have done. The best coaching is when your upperclassmen, guys who have been around the program, are also able to coach and help guys along."
The staff expects Brown and Adams to provide scoring and mismatches on the perimeter, while Swoope and Akpejiori will provide physicality and versatility in the frontcourt. The other returnee, center Tonye Jekiri, is starting to live up to his enormous potential on both ends of the court, though he needs to become more consistent.
Mostly, Konkol gave us insight into the new faces who will debut on the BankUnited Center court tonight.
Belgian point guard Manu Lecomte is the one true point guard on the team, and will likely start in the exhibition game tonight. "Manu is a pure point guard. He really pushes the ball, and he likes to pass," Konkol told us. "He likes to get into gaps and find guys. I think his teammates really enjoy playing with him because he so freely passes the ball."
The staff is looking for him to take more shots, Konkol said. "On the flip side, we want him to be even more aggressive looking to score," he continued. "He's a very good shooter and we want him to make that weapon known more."
Freshman combo guard Deandre Burnett built a reputation in recruiting circles as a dynamic scorer, and returning to the court after a broken collarbone, he's truly impressed the staff. "Deandre Burnett has shown that he can score at a high level," Konkol noted. "He's got very much an attacking personality on the offensive end."
Freshman swingman Davon Reed will contribute right away to his length. "Davon Reed has shown that he's a versatile guy with really long arms, and he wants to be an elite defender. He's very, very active," Konkol told us.
Big man Donnavan Kirk played his freshman year at Miami before transferring DePaul, and has returned as a graduate transfer for his last year of eligibility. The staff is very pleased with what they've seen from him. "He's going to be able to do some different things inside and outside for us," Konkol explained. "He's a lot stronger than he was the first time here. He's a very intelligent guy. He can shoot the perimeter shot, he can pass, and he's got a nice jump hook inside, both right-handed and left-handed."
Forward James Kelly has missed the last few days of practice after having his wisdom teeth removed, but should be ready to go for the exhibition game. Konkol is excited to see what he can do. "James Kelly is an elite athlete, he's shown that over and over again."
The Hurricanes also have two transfers sitting out, Angel Rodriguez and Sheldon McClellan. Konkol said that the two "make practices great" and "very, very talented guys." Playing against such talented, experienced players is clearly helping the young guns adjust quickly.
The Hurricanes magical season last year has already had an impact on season ticket sales as there have already been more than 3,000 tickets sold for this year more than doubling the amount sold last year. The Canes take to the hardwood versus Florida Tech at home TONIGHT. Doors open at 6 for a Select-A-Seat event, followed by "Chalk Talk" with Coach Larrañaga at 7. Tip-off is 7:30 and TICKETS ARE FREE! Visit HurricaneSports.com for more information. Probable starters for tonight's game: G Manu Lecomte, G Rion Brown, G Garrius Adams, C Tonye Jekiri, F Donnavan Kirk.
Tip of the hat to SOTU's Hoops Consigliere Josh Frank (@joshdacane) with another big assist in writing this piece!