NORMAL — No one who has been outside would think it is the middle of October — when official practice for the season begins — although it will have that kind of feeling beginning Saturday for Illinois State’s basketball team.
The Redbirds will hold their first of 10 practice days in Horton Field House’s air-conditioned North Gym in preparation for their four-game exhibition trip to Montreal, Canada, from Aug. 9-12.
ISU, coming off a 12-19 season, plans to have at least two practices on each of the 10 days allowed by the NCAA before leaving Aug. 8.
“It will be a much slower pace, more thorough teaching than maybe the season would be because we do have more time and we have six brand new guys,” said ISU coach Tim Jankovich.
Junior college transfers Tyler Brown and Darious Clark and freshmen Nic Moore, Johnny Hill, Nick Zeisloft and John Jones will get their first exposure of how practices will go in the fall.
“I’m itching to get really back in the season,” said junior forward Jackie Carmichael, the Redbirds’ returning leading scorer with a 9.8 average. “It’s worked out well for us. The new players have come in and been able to work with the team and get the schemes down. It gives us a little jump start to the season.”
Jankovich said getting the “foundation” of his system — defensive principles and some simple offensive concepts — will be the main focus before heading to Canada.
“The No. 1 purpose is not to try and win every game in Canada,” he said. “It’s trying to get a really good base and understanding in place so when we start official practice we’re far ahead of where we would have been.”
Coaches are not allowed to watch players during the summer. However, Jankovich has received positive reports from his veteran players.
“This is, so far, as dedicated a group as we’ve had. Probably, as a team, they’ve spent as many or more hours in the gym individually than any group we’ve had,” said Jankovich.
Jankovich said he can tell from his players’ bodies “they are definitely having a great summer in the weight room” under new strength and conditioning coach Jim Lathrop.
“The older guys are really seeing the more time you put in the more you get out,” said Carmichael. “It’s been huge for the freshmen to see that and start to fall in. It’s put the team in a great position to be successful.”
A perfect example would be 6-foot-9 junior forward John Wilkins.
“ ‘Frenchie’ tells me his weight is up to 230. I think he was 205 when he got here (last summer), and I don’t think he’s going to stop at 230,” said Jankovich. “One thing that always happens when you get into the season is everyone loses five to 10 pounds so you need to get above your playing weight by quite a bit.”
A recruiting evaluation period starts Friday and continues through July 31. Schools can have three coaches on the road at one time during this period.
That means Jankovich will be short-handed with assistant coaches in practice until Aug. 1.
“I certainly don’t want to pull everyone off the road,” he said. “Even though we have no seniors, still we have a great opportunity for the first time since we’ve been here to actually get ahead in recruiting and concentrate on the underclassmen, so that’s exciting for us.”