Basketball team hits the court for first practice

Senior guard Brandon Harris, second from right, covers junior guard Trency Jackson during a drill at the Hilltoppers’ first practice of the season at Diddle Arena on Oct. 7.

Tyler Lashbrook

The WKU men’s basketball team returned to Diddle Arena with seven new faces for the first practice of the year Monday.

“Depth” — that’s what coach Ray Harper said his new slate of players brings to the table.

“It’s good to see 10 bodies out there,” he said. “You can do a lot of different things and not have to worry about wearing people out.”

 Harper said that the new additions would help to curb the pitfalls of physical strain. This goal comes after the Toppers added two football players to last year’s team mid-season after injuries lightened the roster.

“The most important thing is that we have multiple guys who can play multiple positions, and that’s always a good thing,” Harper said.

The team spent the first part of Monday’s practice working on a half-court, four-on-four pick-and-roll drill where Harper emphasized playing physical defense.

The defensive players were mostly given freedom to trap the ball handlers out of the screen, and offensive players were coached to keep their heads up, working with what the defense gave them.

From there, the team moved on to work on their offense sets without any defenders in front of them.

Five players — senior guard Brandon Harris, junior guard T.J. Price, senior guard Caden Dickerson, junior forward George Fant and sophomore center Aleksej Rostov — took the floor first, and ran through the motion offense. Other players were then rotated in to give run the drills.

“You’re going to have some freedom in this offense,” Harper said to his players.

The third-year coach also emphasized spacing the floor and moving in unison.

After teaching the basic offensive principles, Harper sent his players into a drill where the team worked on rotating in its full-court pressure defense.

Once the basic defensive principles were set, Harper allowed the team to scrimmage for approximately one minute at a time.

The team went from working on its press defense to running through a number of different offensive sets. This time, the focus was on how to set screens and how to space the floor accordingly.

The Toppers finished up practice with a few sprints from the baseline, and Price nailed a pair of free throws to effectively end practice.

While welcoming seven new faces, the Toppers retained players that accounted for 73.8 percent of the team’s scoring and 68.7 percent of its rebound force. Two of those players, Fant and Price, hold back-to-back Sun Belt tournament MVP titles.

Harper said it’s nice to have a mix of athletes that know his system to blend with the slew of new players.

This came into play at practice when players were broken into two sides — red, which predominantly represented returning Toppers, and grey, which was comprised mostly of new players.

Returning player Nigel Snipes said this setup helped the team bond through friendly competition.

The sophomore forward missed the 2012-13 season after tearing the anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee. He said Monday’s practice was the first time he had run drills without the knee brace on.

Snipes said that the new teammates were working hard to adjust to the WKU program.

“Since we’ve been here during the summer, we’ve already kind of gained chemistry playing pick up together,” Snipes said.

One of the new recruits, junior forward Aaron Adeoye, spent most of practice assisting the red team.

Adeoye, a 6-foot-7-inch transfer from John A. Logan Community College, said the depth on the team makes practice competitive.

“You can’t just come in and have an off day. You’ve got to bring it, night-in and night-out,” Adeoye said. “And I think that’ll translate to the game.”