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We interrupt for some basketball ...



We'll have tons of UCF-USF blogging on Saturday -- leading up to the game, live during the game, etc. -- and I'll even be on ESPN Radio's "College Gameday" show at 11:20 a.m. or thereabouts, but I want to squeeze in another basketball post after Stan Heath's first practice Friday night.

Very modest crowd, just speckling one half of the lower level -- I had my son's last soccer game of the season, so didn't get there until 7 or so, and I'd guess there were 50 people in the stands. They got their first look at Heath's brand of basketball, with a focus on more running, more shooting, a little more tempo on everything.

Heath's using a new drill this season, one that calls for three teams of four players each in a kind of rotating scrimmage, one that allows there to always be a set defense on the court. I don't think you can read anything into the divvying up of players, but you had White jerseys (Chris Howard, Kentrell Gransberry, Jesus Verdejo and Solomon Bozeman), Green jerseys (Amu Saaka, Dante Curry, Dominique Jones and Mohamed Esseghir) and Red jerseys (Aaron Holmes, Orane Chin, B.J. Ajayi and Eddie Lovett), with Aris Williams still held out of contact drills as the 13th player on roster. Anyhow, White might take a possession with Green on defense, then Green will go across midcourt and find Red waiting on defense, then Red back across against White, and so on.

If that one seems cool yet dizzying, check out a drill from the end of practice, one Heath calls "blitz shooting." Heath sets the clock for two minutes, tells his players they must score a total of 60 points in two minutes, working a three-man weave up the court with two passes. When the three players cross midcourt, balls are passed to the other two and all three players shoot, choosing a three or a regular pullup jumper. Then three others go back up the court the other way, until time expires. "If you are not a 3-point shooter, do not shoot a 3," Heath tells his players. "Find your range."

First time through two minutes, the players are nowhere near the 60-point goal. At one point, all three shots are missed on four straight "possessions" and the team finishes with 35 points. Heath resets the clock for one minute and challenges them to score 30; a late flurry gives them 25 points, still an improvement on the first showing. He puts up one more minute, and as they get more familiar with the drill, the team puts up 33 points in the final minute, including a nice 8-point possession (two 3s and a regular jumper, all good).

Heath reminds them they've been taking shots with no defensive players on them, so they should be hitting at least 50 percent from the field. It's a smart drill, one that gets them in the habit of constantly moving and always being comfortable pulling up for shots. Heath says the team should be scoring 70 or 80 points in a two-minute span.

Last thing is sprints, and with fans watching, Heath puts two players -- Dante Curry and Chris Howard -- on the line for two free throws each, telling them if they can hit three of four, they can skip the extra running. Curry hits one of two, and Howard hits his first, but misses the second, so they're all running.

Heath sets the clock for 11 seconds, has the team run the length of the floor and back. Guard Jesus Verdejo is the fastest, with guard Dominique Jones just behind him. Heath logs any turnovers in practice and requires an extra sprint up and back -- again in 11 seconds -- for each. So eight players run a second sprint, then three have a third set. Halfway down the court, Heath's telling junior forward B.J. Ajayi he might not make it, and with the seconds ticking down, fans are actually cheering for him to finish his sprint, which he does in time. Heath thanks the fans for coming, telling them he'll see them at noon on Saturday for the big football game, signing autographs for a few on glossy photos he says are of "some ugly guy in front of a basketball court." His team will be back at 8 a.m. for its second workout ...

Good night all over the athletic department Friday, as women's soccer notched its 100th career win, 1-0 against Syracuse, before a record crowd of 1,004 fans, most ever for a women's game. Men's soccer followed with a convincing 3-0 win against Villanova, and volleyball won in four games against West Virginia as well ...

[Last modified: Thursday, May 27, 2010 11:42am]


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