Syracuse Basketball Season Gets Underway With Team's First Practice

Jerami Grant sails in for a layup during practice Friday afternoon. - Jeremy Ryan

Earlier this year, the NCAA did something smart for the first time in a long time.

In May, the NCAA Legislative Council voted to expand college basketball’s preseason to 42 days, in an effort to allow teams to spread their practices out and give players more days off in between. That means this year schools like Syracuse, which begin their seasons on November 8, could start practicing on September 27.

That’s today.

So yes, fellow SU fans - if you look at it a certain way, (Rakeem) Christmas has literally arrived early this year.

SU quietly started their 2013-14 season with a Friday afternoon practice at the Carmelo Anthony Center. Coach Jim Boeheim led things off with a quick huddle before the players broke up to stretch and get loose. Then the team moved to positional drills, with assistant coaches Mike Hopkins, Adrian Autry, and Gerry McNamara leading the charge, before getting back together for full-court work.

The players seemed focused from minute one. There was little joking around once drills began, with Boeheim watching from the sidelines while his lieutenants put the team through their paces. Here are some items I observed before practice was closed to the media about a half hour in:

- The full roster was in attendance. Over the summer freshmen Tyler Roberson and Chinonso Obokoh were held out of the team’s four-game exhibition trip to Canada because of eligibility concerns, but they were cleared a few weeks ago and fully participated in practice. Also, sophomore Jerami Grant missed out on what could have been some great international experience with the USA under-19 national team due to a bout with mononucleosis, but he played in Canada last month and looked to be back to his normal self.

- On the fashion front, Boeheim rocked a blue Nike warmup suit with orange and white trim, perhaps in solidarity with the football team’s all-blue uniforms last week. Okay, probably not.

- Obokoh made a fashion statement of his own with a pair of highlighter-yellow Nike shoes that would make Oregon and Baylor jealous. I kept looking around to see if Digger Phelps was taking notes.

- I mentioned this after the exhibition practices, but it bears repeating. Dajuan Coleman looks to be in much better shape than he was last year. He was rewarded for his work with more touches and shots around the basket during the Canada trip. I’ll be interested to see if that carries over to the regular season.

- Hopkins was really into his big man drills from the get-go. At one point he demanded the ball and forced the centers, all at least four inches taller, to guard *him* during one set of reps. I think Baye Keita took that example to heart, because he was later seen out on the floor helping Obokoh and the others with their zone positioning even when he wasn’t actively participating in the drill. I expect to see a lot of leadership out from the senior in his final season.

- Coleman is showing added confidence in his offense, and looked more fluid around the basket. He has a nice one dribble to the middle/baseline drop step move that will be tough to stop if he buries himself down low and uses his bulk and strength to his advantage.

- Keita also showed flashes of improved offense during drills, lofting a nice lefty hook shot over his defenders on more than one occasion. Hopkins implored his men to use more finesse and a soft touch around the rim, cautioning that attempts to bully their way to the basket (i.e. Coleman last year) will result in an offensive foul. Perhaps he knows that the ACC's style of play is much less physical than in the old Big East, and that sort of banging won’t fly in their new league?

- We’ve heard how it takes a while for rookies to find their place in the zone. I saw that firsthand from Roberson as Autry coached him on his footwork. You could see the growing pains flash across Roberson’s face, but he caught on quickly and I never saw the coaches have to correct him twice. On the bright side, man is that guy athletic, and surprisingly skilled for a freshman. He is going to be a big time player when he figures things out, probably sooner rather than later.

- We saw glimpses of Tyler Ennis’s scoring ability on the Canada trip, and with no true point guard backing him up he is going to get all of the minutes and shots he can handle this season. I hope he knows where the whirlpool is. It appears to me that Duke transfer Michael Gbinije has the inside track for the starting shooting guard spot, with Trevor Cooney and freshman Ron Patterson serving as the third and fourth guards in the rotation.

The Orange will practice for three weeks before giving fans their first look at the annual “Orange Madness” fan event on Friday, October 18. The team then hosts Holy Family University of Philadelphia in its first exhibition game on November 1 before Cornell comes to the Carrier Dome on November 8 for the start of the regular season. SU finally dives into ACC play when Miami comes to town on January 4.

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