Not every practice is perfect from start to finish and No. 8 for the men’s basketball team included a valuable teaching moment, according to assistant coach Jeff Wulbrun.
“Guys were a little bit rusty after a couple days off,” he said. “The effort eventually got to where we wanted it to and we talked quite honestly about the team setting standards, and the three captains setting standards.”
The message was that the coaches can’t be the only ones to light the fire. Players have to carry the torch, too. But even a somewhat sluggish practice couldn’t dowse the optimism that has been readily apparent from coaches and players alike this offseason.
Senior forward and captain Michael Humphrey remarked at the difference in competitiveness in practice from last season. The four-player freshmen class is a significant reason for that change, but also the development of the returning players has contributed to what has been described as overall a very encouraging start to practices.
Humphrey is one of those returning players who the coaches have made a point of saying has all the tools he needs to be successful, but it’s a matter of putting them together.
Head coach Jerod Haase recently praised Humphrey’s strong defensive effort in practice and his better understanding of how to be effective on offense.
“I have done better job of knowing where to be on the court this year and not getting in other guys’ ways as they’re attacking the basket,” Humphrey said. “That’s a big emphasis for us offensively is getting to the middle of the paint and making the right play. I’m floating a lot on the baseline for lobs and dunks. We’re starting to get pick and rolls, pick and pops. I feel like I’m very comfortable on offense.”
For the most part the foundation upon which Stanford is building up their offense and defense is mastering the fundamentals. Wulbrun said the team’s identity has to be a great half-court defensive team, so they spend a lot of time in each practice on man-to-man defense.
Off of that defensive effort the Cardinal hope to do a lot more running this season.
“We want to really attack the defense in transition situations this year,” Wulbrun said. “So, off of missed shots, off of steals -- we’ve really stressed to the guys that we’re looking for primary break options and we’re looking for secondary break options. But the one consistent word in everything we do is attack.”
Even when in their half-court motion offense the emphasis is on attacking the basket and making plays in the paint.
Wulbrun said in Stanford’s system of “four around one” they need bigs to be versatile. Players such as Humphrey, Reid Travis, Josh Sharma, freshman Oscar da Silva and others need to be as comfortable on the perimeter as they are close to the basket.
Humphrey described two roles on the court in the system: “The offensive guy from the wing is going to drive to the middle of the paint and get to what we call the ‘X’. And then a big guy is in the dunk spot.
“I love it. When you’re right around the basket you catch the ball and go up on and dunk on somebody. It’s very simple. It’s easy and fun to play in.”
Travis being able to attack from the outside helps his game and the Cardinal’s cause in several ways.
"For Reid it would be we’ve spent the entire offseason working on his three-point shot, his dribble moves, his ability to rip the ball more and get into the paint," Wulbrun said. “Creating for other people is something that we have identified with Reid. He’s a guy who when he penetrates and gets to the paint he draws a crowd.”
At a recent practice Travis finished with “four or five assists”, according to Wulbrun. And the coaches think that a reasonable goal for Travis is 10 trips to the foul line a game.
Other notes and quotes
Humphrey addresses his foul trouble: "I wasn’t getting to places as soon as I should have been (last season). You hear it in sports all the time, 'One step too late.' Also it’s being smart, such as not jumping. I’m 6-10. Put my hands straight up in the air and it’s going to be a tough shot. Learn that people are going to hit tough shots and you’re not going to stop every bucket. As much as you're a competitor and you don’t want anyone to ever score, people are going to hit shots and my value is greater on the court than on the bench."
Wulbrun on Trevor Stanback: "He’s doing a great job. Love his effort every day and he’s definitely better than he was a year ago. His effort is better. He tries to win every sprint he’s in. He is doing a good job of relocating on penetration. Trevor would be a five, so when we’re saying we’re playing four around one, Trevor would be the post man inside constantly relocating on penetration."
Da Silva: "We think Oscar is a play-making post. We really do. That’s a strength of Oscar’s to be able to put the ball on the floor and create for his teammates."
Unfortunately for Stanford and da Silva he has missed several recent practices due to a high ankle sprain and as of Tuesday was not cleared to return.
Kezie Okpala: "He ended practice with a big-time play. He drove the middle and attacked the hole, just like we ask him to do. He had a big time dunk over Trevor. Kezie is getting better every single day."