HARRISONBURG — James Madison’s first official basketball practice of the fall was scheduled to last the typical two and a half hours.
Yet the minutes kept ticking past that benchmark and second-year coach Louis Rowe was still on the court teaching and re-running the same drills for his young squad. None of what transpired Monday really surprised Rowe as he embarks on coaching a team filled with nine newcomers, five of whom are true freshmen. It’s all part of what will be a learning curve that will dictate the success the Dukes have this season.
“There was so much time that we stopped and talked, and that’s probably how it’s going to be the first two weeks,” Rowe said. “We’re going to have to take a lot of time to teach because we are really, really young. There were some things that we didn’t get to, and that’s understandable, I’m not even mad. We’ve got to be really patient with this team.”
Rowe and his staff had a head start in the learning process with 10 practices in mid-August before the Dukes embarked on a four-game, seven-day trip to the U.S. Virgin Islands. That experience took some of the edge off a normal first-day-of-practice feel with senior Ramone Snowden noting “the energy was kind of low” compared to the typical opening-day excitement.
Snowden said he thought the first day of practice was a success because of how well the newcomers were picking up on Rowe’s concepts on both ends of the floor and the improvements they were making within the practice.
“There were a lot of teaching moments out here and everybody is just learning,” Snowden said. “We’ve got a bunch of freshmen, and they’ve got to learn the way and Coach Rowe is doing that right now. He’s teaching them how to do the different things on defense and offense, so today was a good day.”
The one criticism Rowe levied on his team was its lack of communication, especially on defense. He said although he has continuously urged his players to be more talkative on that end of the floor, there were still too many breakdowns that simple communication would have solved.
McLean said he knows he and his teammates must be louder on defense, but believes the heart and grit that is equally important to Rowe’s defensive agenda were present.
“We just got to work on being more talkative,” McLean said. “The energy is still there and everybody wants to play, everybody is eager to play, but we need to get to communicating more on offense and defense and we’ll be fine.”
No one has more of an onus to be vocal this season than McLean and Snowden, the only returning players who logged time for JMU last season. Rowe has placed the burden of leadership on their shoulders, and thus far the two have set good examples for their teammates, Rowe said.
McLean in particular was challenged to be more talkative this offseason, and the normally reserved guard broke out of his shell during the Dukes’ practice in August before their trip to the U.S. Virgin Islands. Snowden said McLean started that process earlier in the summer during a team-bonding trip when the players were holding onto a rope and delivered feedback for areas of improvement for one another.
McLean said he is still maturing in his new role, but he realizes there is more being asked of him this season.
“I’ve always felt like I was some type of leader, but just trying to step into that [vocal] role is basically what I’m trying to progress myself into,” McLean said. “Making sure everything is on track, making sure that I’m being the leader that Coach Rowe needs me to be on the court while he’s the coach off the court.”
Although McLean, Rowe and Snowden all said they saw the newcomers transfer much of their knowledge from the August practices into the fall season, all three said there is still plenty of room for improvement before the season begins Nov. 10 against Bridgewater College at the Convocation Center.
One area where Rowe said he saw improvement from August to October was on offense. He said he thought the younger players, many of whom are offensive-minded already, really started buying into the concepts he was preaching as part of JMU’s offensive plan.
“We’ve got a long way to go offensively, but our ball movement was good,” Rowe said. “Our main motion offense is supposed to be a lot of ball movement and a lot of spacing, but you have to learn it and there’s a feel to it. I thought guys were paying more attention to moving the basketball, which is good.”
NOTES: Graduate transfer Cam Smith was not limited during his time before he had to leave the practice early for class. The forward who transferred from Florida International this offseason was limited in August with a knee injury and Rowe said the training staff was keeping a close eye on him still. ... Freshman guard Darius Banks was held out of contact drills as he recuperates from an undisclosed injury while freshman forward Zach Jacobs sat out of practice with a wrist injury. Jacobs had a hard cast on his left wrist that Rowe said will keep him out of action for two to three weeks before he moves to a soft cast and can rejoin practice.