ACC Basketball Players, Coaches Welcome Early Start


By Steve Phillips, ACC Staff Writer

Men’s basketball practice off and running thanks to NCAA format change

Preseason practice starts nearly three weeks earlier than usual for Atlantic Coast Conference men’s basketball teams this fall, and coaches and players seem close to unanimous in their assessment.

“I think it’s a good thing – a really good thing,” Duke coach Mike Krzyewski said.

Thanks to legislation approved by the NCAA last spring, Division I teams are allowed to hold up to 30 practices in the 42 days prior their regular-season openers. Under the new format, which closely resembles the one followed by the NCAA at the Women’s Division I level in recent years, teams are limited to a maximum of six days and 20 hours of practice per week.

That contrasts with past years, which saw practice begin roughly four weeks prior to the start of the season. Teams were offered little in way of flexibility or days off, meaning preseason essentially evolved into a 20-practice cram session in which everything moved at a rapid and often draining pace.

“We’re actually going to be able to spread out the practices and give the players more rest and time to recover, which I’ve always been a great believer in,” said coach Jim Larrañaga of defending ACC champion Miami, which held its first practice on Friday, Sept. 27. “The way to sharpen your skills is to rest and get more energy so when you get out onto the floor you can play as hard as you possibly can. You’re not tired, you’re not sore because your muscles had plenty of time to recover.”

Krzyzewski said the more spread-out practice schedule should also allow coaches more time to work with their players individually.

“With practice six days a week (during the four-week period in the past), with conditioning and all that, sometimes you couldn’t get a kid in between classe,” Krzyzewski said. “Or sometimes he might just have wanted to come over early in the morning and get shots up and things of that nature. This gives us that opportunity.”

While praising the new format, Krzyzewski added that it will be important for coaches to use it in the manner in which it is intended.

“We have to be careful in giving them enough time (off) because it’s such a long season, that we don’t just physically and mentally wear them down,” Krzyzewski said.

That shouldn’t be a problem among ACC coaches, who recognize the value having fresh legs and clear minds once the ball goes up for real the weekend of Nov. 8. At Notre Dame, for example, senior point guard Eric Atkins expects veteran coach Mike Brey to hold intense practices only two or three days a week in the early going, gradually easing the Irish into a heavier work load.

"I think the way Coach Brey is going to pace us will be great for our team," Atkins says. "We are going to be able to go as hard as we can in these practices and not have to worry about getting too tired for the next day. Coach always does a great job of managing our bodies, so I am not really worried about it."

Atkins believes freshmen student-athletes will find the additions of calendar days and extra practice dates particularly helpful.

“The fact that they get the opportunity to practice with us more and learn our players earlier and get used to how we play is only going to be more beneficial to them and to us,” Atkins said.

There also is much that appeals to upperclassmen. Ask Georgia Tech fifth-year senior Kammeon Holsey, who will get to experience a genuine “fall break” for the first time later this month.

"I was surprised when we got that," Holsey told Mark Winkeljohn of Sting Daily. "The guys should go home and relax. It's going to be something different. I think it's a good idea to go home and see your family, get some home cooking. We usually start practice then, and nobody's on campus. It was like a ghost town."

It all makes sense on a number of levels, according to Larrañaga.

“We want them to be sharp in practice because a lot of things we’re going to do are not just physical they’re mental,” he said. “You don’t learn nearly as well when you’re fatigued.”