James “Bruiser” Flint doesn’t like to scream in the summer.
“The summer time is for relaxing, so I don’t get on them as much,” the Drexel men’s basketball head coach said about his players.
To a bystander at practice the Aug. 19 morning, this would have been far from evident. Nearly every player on the Drexel Recreation Center floor got an earful from the fiery 14-year coach as the team held court for one of its 10 allotted practices before the Dragons embark on a trip to China Aug. 23.
It may only be August, with two full months separating the team from the start of the season, but contrary to Flint’s assertions, the 140-minute practice was anything but relaxing.
The players began the practice separated by position — frontcourt or backcourt — and worked out against their own kind in 1-on-1 and 2-on-2 drills, fighting against stingy defense. Flint and his assistant coaches were loud and persistent, making sure to let incoming freshman Austin Williams know his switches at the top of the key need to be more precise. Eventually the players converged for 5-on-5 drills, simulating in-game situations.
Rising sophomore Rodney Williams was one of the more notable participants in each of the respective drills. Williams has drawn the attention of a number of observers over the past week; after an impressive freshman campaign, the power forward is looking to make a big jump this season.
He said it’s been interesting transitioning from freshman to team leader in one fell swoop, but he’s handling it well.
“It’s a little hard, but I’m ready for it,” Rodney Williams said. “Bruiser just gets on me a lot, especially since [senior forward Kazembe Abif] is out, I’m kind of the oldest big with the most experience. So there’s a lot of pressure on me to perform and help the young guys, so we’ll see how that goes. But right now I’m handling transitioning pretty well.”
Williams out-muscled the majority of his competition in the post during practice, including incoming freshman forwards Tyshawn Myles and Austin Williams. His increased strength, he said, is by design.
“After the season I knew I had to get stronger after freshman season,” he said. So he went to a nutritionist at Drexel and formed a plan. “I’ve just been working all spring and summer just trying to get stronger and put on good weight — not just pounds, but weight that I can move with. It’s been very helpful to me and it’s raised my game.”
Along with Williams, rising sophomore Major Canady figures to factor into the Dragons’ game plan in a big way this season. With the graduation of Frantz Massenat, Canady is next in line to assume the starting point guard position, and with it, the key to Flint’s offense.
Canady said these preliminary practices have been good for him as he prepares to take on his new role after seeing limited playing time last season.
“It’s definitely given me an idea of how I’m going to have to play this year,” Canady said. “I’m definitely going to have to be more aggressive than last year, since we lost [senior Chris Fouch] and [Massenat]. It’s given me a feel for playing alongside the guys.”
Along with a number of young players returning, Flint is bringing in four freshmen and University of California Los Angeles transfer Sooren Derboghosian, a graduate student this season, with University of Utah transfer Ahmad Fields sitting this season out due to NCAA transfer rules.
One of those freshmen, Rashann London, said he’s really appreciating these extra practices before the Dragons depart for China.
“I definitely appreciate the extra practice time, because if we went over there it would’ve been my first time playing the guys, so it would’ve been on a wing and I don’t think it would’ve ended too well,” he said with a laugh.
London said these practices have been a lot to come into and figure out, not knowing how long the practices would be or what drills he would be participating in with his teammates.
“So I’m just going into with a good mindset and being ready to work every day,” he said. “I think I’m adjusting pretty well. We’ve been playing for a while now, so I’m getting used to it.”
London said he and Canady have been talking since he was in high school and working out together this summer when he had free time.
Canady said he’s been impressed with what he’s seen from the young players so far in these practices.
“They all look really good,” Canady said. “They’re all good kids off the court, and they’ve all looked really good here. I think they just have to focus in more and get used to the grind of college, and the three-hour practices.”
As was expected, Flint was less glittering in his review of the young Dragons.
“The guys have been alright,” he said at practice. “I told them, our effort has been good, but our concentration hasn’t always been good.”
However Flint quickly admitted that he was maybe being a little hard on the new guys; after all, they just got here.
“These guys aren’t used to practicing like this,” he explained. “We’re throwing a lot of stuff at them, actually, because you don’t have a lot of time. They haven’t been bad, haven’t been bad at all.”
With the trip to China just around the corner and full-fledged practices awaiting them upon return, London and the new guys will have plenty of chances to get used to the grind.
They’d better be ready for Flint to start screaming at them more, too.
“I told them all the time, when we come back it gets ramped up a little bit,” Flint said with a smirk.
Summer is nearly over.