JONESBORO, Ark. (9/29/17) – The Arkansas State University men’s basketball team, led by first year head coach Mike Balado, took the court at the Convocation Center Friday afternoon for the first official practice of the 2017-18 season.
“I think right now, competitiveness and effort have always been there for us and our guys have given that every day,” said Balado. “The defense is way ahead of the offense right now. I think our intensity on the ball in the press and communicating, rotating, blocking shots and getting steals is where we want it to be at this point of the season. Offensively, playing against this defense is a little difficult so we are trying to get our timing down. The biggest thing we need to work on is that and knowing where shots are coming from and who should be taking those shots.”
The first practice lasted approximately two hours inside the Convocation Center as Balado and his staff ran the players through numerous drills and worked on fundamentals. From the opening whistle, there was a clear emphasis on energy, communication with teammates and defense.
“Day one was great,” said senior guard Rashad Lindsey. “Everybody came out with great energy and played hard during the nice, fun practice. We’ve been practicing hard through the summer, but it was nice to be able to put it all together today. I love our style of play and it’s going to be a fun year.”
A-State heads into the 2017-18 season with five returning letterwinners and three returning starters. The Red Wolves top returning scorer is Deven Simms, who averaged 13.4 ppg to rank 15th in the league. Rashad Lindsey also averaged double figures (10.3) while Tamas Bruce is the leading rebounder (5.8) returning.
“The hardest thing in practice right now is subbing and I’m subbing both teams in and out,” said Balado. “At one point, I think practice is going great then look on the side and see Deven Simms, Rashad Lindsey, Ty Cockfield and Marquis Eaton and think wow. They come in and think it’s going well now and then I have Tamas Bruce, Grantham Gillard, Shaquillo Fritz and Tristin Walley on the side. ‘Who am I going to play?’ I don’t know, but I just told the guys if we start the same lineup three games in a row this year they aren’t doing their job. Practice needs to be competitive. We should have 10 starters this year and that is my goal.”
“This is a fun way to play. More assists, more steals, more blocked shots, more points, more possessions, that’s what this style allows us to do. This style allows you to flourish as long as you are playing hard. Guys missed shots today and I didn’t yell at them once, but if they aren’t guarding I’m not playing them and that’s when you see the intensity pick up. If we get 10 to 12 guys doing that, we will play all of them and that will be fun for all of us.”
Complementing the eight returning letterwinners are six newcomers. Four JUCO transfers (Ty Cockfield, Tristin Walley, Grantham Gillard and Shaquillo Fritz) along with two true-freshmen (Marquis Eaton and Morgan McKay) complete the 15-man roster for the Red Wolves.
“This tempo is a lot of fun,” said guard Ty Cockfield. “I feel like if we are playing slow, its boring basketball. If we play fast, it’s exciting. Dunk, steals, layups, threes, it’s just fun. Coach Balado is teaching us to make the right decisions and right plays to win, while playing this style. From day one, we’ve been taught to go 110 percent and be quick, but make the right plays at the same time.”
Friday’s practice was the first of 30 ahead of the 2017-18 season. The lone exhibition contest for A-State is scheduled for November 4 at 7:00 p.m. against Harding inside the Convocation Center. The Red Wolves open the regular season Friday, November 10 at Evansville before the home opener on Monday, November 13 against Howard.
“There’s only one guy in this program and it’s not anybody on this team or me, it’s Arkansas State,” said Balado. “That’s the only guy we want to be consistently winning every day. So if Ty Cockfield is the guy one game and Deven Simms is the guy the next game, we’re going to cheer to make sure it’s Rashad Lindsey for the third game. I said it from day one that if you play for the name on the front, the name on the back will prosper. The more you win and the more games you play, the more people will notice you. This mentality is going through the team right now. Off the court, our chemistry is excellent. On the court, we are still learning each other and that’s partly my fault because I’ve tried so many different lineups. That’s intentional though, because I want to have 10 starters. We don’t want five guys used to each other and another five guys used to each other, we want 10 guys to play together.”
Fans will have the opportunity to meet the team at ‘Boots & Ballers’ October 24 at 6 p.m. Tickets and more information on ‘Boots & Ballers’ is available by calling 870-972-2781.
For the most up to date information on A-State men's basketball, follow the Red Wolves on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram by searching for AStateMB. Season tickets for the 2017-18 season are on sale now by visiting AStateRedWolves.com/tickets or by calling 870-972-ASU1.