LaQuill Hardnett compares the first day of basketball practice to preparing for the first day of school.
You choose your new equipment for the season. You get the dizzy feeling when approaching the gym. You see old friends again and get acquainted with new faces. There’s excitement and there are a lot of new faces this season in the University at Buffalo men’s and women’s basketball programs.
“It’s different from my first three years,” said Hardnett, a forward for the UB men’s basketball team. “It’s a whole new group of guys, so everyone is still learning. Before, we had a lot of vets, and now we are on a new path. It’s very different.
Monday was the first day of preseason practices for the men’s and women’s basketball teams at UB, Niagara and Canisius; Saint-Bonaventure’s men’s and women’s programs will begin pre-season training on Tuesday. Prior to this week, college basketball programs could only practice eight hours a week during the offseason. Until the start of the season, teams can train up to 20 hours per week.
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The bottom line: More time for coaches to work with players, whether it’s emphasizing defense or the value of variety on the perimeter, or demanding constant chatter during a practice three hours, as new UB women’s basketball coach Becky Burke did during her first preseason practice at the Alumni Arena.
“The goal is to have more time with these guys,” Burke said. “We have so much to do and set up. I told them, ‘we’re starting a bit behind the ball eight, just because it’s a whole new team.’ It’s not just a whole new staff with a whole returning team. It’s a whole new staff with a whole new team. You have two things against you, in that regard, in terms of the amount of ground that we have to cover.
“One hour, four times a week was not enough for us. We went three hours today because we need reps, we need time and that cohesion to build. You can’t rush.
The UB men’s and women’s open the regular season on November 7 with a doubleheader at Alumni Arena. UB women host Canisius at 5 p.m. and men host Colgate at 7 p.m.
“Now you know the games are coming, and you have six weeks to really put it all together,” UB men’s coach Jim Whitesell said. “It gives you the next phase. We break it down into spring, summer, and early fall, and now you’re set. This is the phase where you have a lot of fun as a coach. You are teaching a lot, but you are going to see a lot of progression.
The UB women have nearly a full new roster, save for guard Jazmine Young and forward Ramatoulaye Keita, after Burke replaced Felisha Legette-Jack as head coach in April.
“We’re all new and none of us have played under Coach Burke before except for one of our teammates (Chellia Watson, who played for Burke at USC Upstate),” said Re’Shawa Stone, a guard who transferred to UB from Division II Glenville State.
“The challenge is not knowing what to expect. It’s a whole new coaching staff, not just the head coach, and it’s knowing there are drills we won’t be familiar with, but it’s something we’ll get over.
For the UB men, their first three-hour training session began with sideline-to-sideline sprints and continued with ball handling and ball skill drills weighted black basketball shoes. UB also held drills in focus groups inside UB’s training gymnasium and then focused on defensive drills inside the perimeter, which is a particular point of emphasis for Whitesell, UB’s fourth-year men’s coach.
“The defense will take care of the ball,” Whitesell said. “Those are two things you have to do if you want to be good. You have to take care of the ball, you have to defend and bounce back. This has been a big focus that we’ve focused on as we’ve grown.
Stone is one of 10 new players to the UB women’s roster, and Hardnett is one of five returning players to the UB men’s roster, which also includes nine new players.
Like UB’s men’s and women’s, the Niagara, Canisius and St. Bonaventure men’s program rosters have seen significant turnover, due to transfers and graduations, so preseason is also about bringing together personalities, both for returning players and for new players and coaches.
“With all the new players, I just try to help everybody when they need help, lead all the drills,” Hardnett said. “I know everything Coach is going to do, and we’ve been together for four years. I try to lead by example, follow the lead.
“Our goal is to get everyone on the same page and get everyone caught up in our system.”
The first practice, however, is usually the most difficult.
At the end of women’s practice, Burke cheered on her team – and a new goal.
“Good practice today,” Burke told the Bulls, as they circled her on center court at the Alumni Arena. “Let’s do better tomorrow.