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Almost everything is new for Sycamores as June workouts begin

Indiana State men’s basketball has a new head coach, nine new players and three new assistant coaches. All are trying to keep the good vibes flowing after ISU’s finest campaign in 45 years concluded with a runner-up finish in the National Invitation Tournament in April.

With June workouts — the first time a team formally hits the court together, finally here — where do you even start to begin the acclimation process?

For new head coach Matthew Graves? He decided there was no reason to waste time dilly-dallying with the gradual approach.

“I went back and forth and talked to a lot of people in coaching. What we really landed on was throwing the whole kitchen sink at it,” Graves said Tuesday at ISU Arena.

Fair enough. ISU’s players were put through the paces, working on offensive concepts that have been retained from Josh Schertz’s time as coach.

ISU will play five-out. ISU will cut and move. ISU will run as often as it can. ISU will emphasize spacing. ISU will shoot its fair share of 3s.

That has not changed from the 2024 season, but of course, the personnel has.

“We want to give them the complete overview of how we want it to look like. We understand that the first week is going to be clunky, but once we get our guys on film and we can show them what they need to be doing, and you can see yourself doing it, that’s when we can take the next step,” said Graves, who also noted that the new-look Sycamores watched about 10 minutes of film from last year’s team to drive home familiarity.

If one thing stood out about the new Sycamores, it’s that the team isn’t athletic as it had been, but it might be bigger and bulkier.

“The concepts will be the same, but how we get there will be different. We’re not going to have the same type of personnel,” Graves said.

“Last year, we didn’t have the ability to post a ton. That wasn’t one of Robbie [Avila’s] strengths. Markus [Harding] and Derek [Vorst] are better post-up guys. We have to find ways, within our concepts, to utilize them in the post,” Graves noted.

Perhaps to no surprise, when ISU went to five-on-five to conclude the workout, holdover Jaden Daughtry was the most comfortable. He was hard to stop both from beyond the arc and in driving to the rim.

The emphasis was on the offensive side of the ledger. Defense was barely mentioned and likely won’t be through the three weeks of June workouts.

That dynamic offense is appealing to players who have grown up watching it at the NBA level and as it becomes increasingly common at the collegiate rung in the developmental ladder. ISU’s teams of the last two years are an example of how successful this style can be.

“I love this offense. At my old school, we had bursts of this kind of offense, but playing five-out the whole time, or switching to four-out, one-in with the elbow, it’s something I enjoy. It’s way more fast-paced and we can score a lot more out of it,” said Harding, who transferred to ISU from Central Michigan.

“Playing around other dudes who can score, it makes it easy for me to make plays for others,” said Tyran Cook, who came to ISU from Virginia Military Institute.

Trying to mold all of the enticements of the spread offense into a team concept is what these three weeks in June are all about.

“What we want to stay away from are having five independent contractors. We don’t want to throw five hired guns out there who have no ability to function or work together,” Graves said.

Three players did not participate in Tuesday’s workout. Aaron Gray was attending to a personal matter. Samage Teel is finalizing admissions. Bobby Cannon was at practice, but couldn’t participate yet as his paperwork cycles through ISU’s system.

So how did it go on day one?

“It actually went better than I anticipated. I thought the guys did a great job trying to do what we were asking them to. They were learning and helping each other. From a day one standpoint, I’d rate it as an A,” Graves said.

ISU will have eight more workouts in June before a break in the action comes in early July.