Men’s basketball returns to hardwood for preseason practice
Published: Tuesday, October 1, 2013
Updated: Tuesday, October 1, 2013 14:10
Reggie Witherspoon has led the men’s basketball team onto the floor for the past 14 seasons. This year marks a new era for the program.
Bobby Hurley, who was hired in March, officially began his journey as the Bulls’ new head coach on Sept. 27 as Buffalo held its first practice of the season. Hurley was brought in after Witherspoon failed to meet the expectations of Athletic Director Danny White, as the Bulls went 14-20 overall and 7-9 in Mid-American Conference play in 2012-13.
It may not be fair to say the program is in a rebuilding state, as the team returns five players who were key contributors from last year, including MAC Player of the Year candidate senior forward Javon McCrea. But there are almost as many new faces on the team as familiar ones. Five of the players on the current 11-man roster are new to the program.
“We have guys here – compared to some of the other rebuilding processes I’ve been involved with – that are way ahead of the curve in terms of the talent,” Hurley said. “That’s the players that were in the program and the players we brought into the program in the spring.”
Of the five new players Hurley has brought in, only two are freshmen. Senior guard Josh Freelove and sophomore forward Justin Moss are two Hurley referenced who can make immediate contributions. Freelove is a transfer from Alabama State, where he averaged 13.3 points per game, which led the team in scoring and ranked 10th in the Southwestern Athletic Conference.
Hurley has a difficult test early in his career. As the NCAA’s all-time leader in assists, many expect him to bring in a guard-friendly offense to UB. But with the team’s two returning scoring leaders – McCrea and junior Will Regan – being forwards, Hurley will have to make some adjustments to his strategy.
“Good coaches are able to tweak their style based on their personnel,” Hurley said. “Obviously in the half court, [we will] have an emphasis on throwing the ball inside.”
McCrea has demonstrated brute force and an ability to dominate the game in the paint as he has been named first team All-MAC the past two seasons.
“We’re working hard with [McCrea] to work on his perimeter shot,” Hurley said. “I think if he can continue to develop that, he’s going to be tough to guard. But he’s a presence down low and we’re designing a lot of our offense to give him good looks in the paint.”
Pounding the ball to McCrea and Regan – who can also stroke it from three-point range – down low was the Bulls’ most effective game plan last season, but they will have to improve their perimeter play as well. They struggled last year when opponents focused on McCrea down low, forcing the guards to make plays.
The Bulls’ crowded backcourt appears to pose another test for the young coach. Senior point guard Jarod Oldham returns after missing the majority of last season with a broken wrist. But his replacement from last year, sophomore Jarryn Skeete, performed at a high level, creating a question of which guard will be the maestro to the Bulls’ offense.
Hurley doesn’t see it as a controversy, but rather an opportunity for both guards to flourish sharing the court.
“I see them playing together,” Hurley said. “The way we’re going to play, I think you’re going to see a lot of three guards on the perimeter. We’ll have a designated guy that gets us in the offense and a guy that guards the basketball but I ask all my perimeter players to be able to play in ball screens, to shoot the basketball and create off the dribble.”
Senior guard Auraum Nuiriankh will likely be that third guard in the lineup, with senior Corey Raley-Ross and freshmen Shannon Evans and Deyshonee Much contributing as bench players.
Hurley is excited to have the next month to implement his new style to the team and to prepare for the season. His credentials are well known – two national championships as the point guard at Duke – and bringing a championship atmosphere to this program starts with practice.
“I think it all begins with what you do in the gym and the culture you create and how hard you practice on a daily basis to prepare our tam for adversity,” Hurley said. “Championship teams know how to handle adversity and I think you can create that in how you practice so your players prepare for it when they play in games.”
We’re still a month away from the regular season tipping off. The Bulls’ first game is set for Nov. 8 at Texas A&M.