Oct. 16, 2012
For quite some time now, Old Dominion's men's basketball team has always had enough experience on the roster to lead by example.
"When we needed to show a play from our playbook, I'd just send five guys onto the court and say, `Show the new guys how to run this,' " said Blaine Taylor, who is about to begin his 12th year at the Monarchs' helm. "That's kind of hard to do this year."
Nearly impossible is more like it.
A look down ODU's roster as the preseason begins shows a very unusual alignment that includes six freshmen and a transfer.
"I had to stop practice the other day and teach them how to run the three-man weave," Taylor said as he kicked back and put his feet up after Sunday's practice, the squad's third of the new season.
Knowing Taylor now for over a decade, I waited for a punch line that never came.
"No, I'm being serious," Taylor said. "I had to teach them how to run the three-man weave."
OK, for those who expect one-liners from Taylor, don't look so disappointed. Trust me, he's got some new ones.
While teaching an inbounds play during Sunday's workout, Taylor tried to emphasize where he wanted 6-foot-5 freshman guard Aaron Bacote to go on the court once he got the ball near the top of the key. Bacote is eight months removed from his rule as the Peninsula District's player of the year while at Bethel High. He hasn't been in a lot of practices with Taylor.
Bacote's also pretty smart: He graduated fifth in his class.
Still, there was a communication gap, to put it mildly, in what Taylor was saying and what Bacote was assimilating.
Taylor finally looked at Bacote and said, "Son, you look like someone's running a blender by your ear."
Each and every player on the court giggled and some outright chuckled.
"Oh man, we were all trying to keep a straight face and failing," said Nick Wright, the teams' most experienced member. Wright is a red-shirt senior and the probable starter this season at power forward. He's also one of this year's captains, along with Donte Hill.
"Coach Taylor is still getting his point across," Wright said. "But he also realizes he can't kill these kids' confidence."
The Monarchs have only five players on their roster with ODU game experience and one of them - Richard Ross - has his left wrist in a cast and is doing his best work on an exercise bike. That's not to say that transfer center DeShawn Painter won't bring serious experience to the table after three seasons playing at N.C. State, but even he is struggling a little with the new surroundings.
And all of the newbies are struggling with a language that has evolved at ODU, with Taylor being the "Yoda" speaking it in sometimes eclectic clips.
Taylor has catch phrases and likes to champion the occasional acronym.
One of his favorites is KYP: know your personnel. In short order, it means that a player should know the strengths and shortcomings of the other four on the court at any time. That way, if a certain shooter likes to get the ball in a certain spot on the floor, you give him the ball there.
And then there's FIMO: Forget it, move on.
Basketball is a game where it pays to have a short memory. Just look at the turnover column on any given night. No team makes it through a game without one.
Another favorite term Taylor likes to throw around is the "garden spot."
"So I said to this one player, `Get to the garden spot,' " Taylor said, "and a couple of players looked at me as if I'd told them to go find a restaurant at the mall."
In Taylor vernacular, the garden spot is a favored location on the court to shoot the 3-pointer. As in, once the ball swings around the perimeter, the shooter should be in his "garden spot" when the ball gets to him.
Yes, it can be a language all to its own.
After two losing seasons to begin Taylor's run at ODU, the garden spot has been found often by the Monarchs, who have blossomed into a program that regularly plays in the postseason. ODU has gone to some type of postseason tournament for eight straight years and has made it to the NCAA Tournament in four of those years. ODU has also averaged over 24 wins a year during that eight-year run.
Naturally, Monarchs fans expect a lot of the program. But what should be expected this year? Taylor himself admits he's "pretty much at Ground Zero with this bunch."
One thing that should be expected is a new bunch of one-liners and zingers. Beyond the blender line directed at Bacote on Sunday, Taylor threw a couple of other pearls out there for everyone to shine.
When center Anton Larson was trying to set a screen for a teammate who never showed up in the lane, Taylor blurted, "Anton looked like he had a tour map going through the Shenandoah Valley. He didn't know where the heck you were."
When another player stopped on a set play and just watched the world pass him by, Taylor was at it again: "Son, you're standing there like a cemetery stone!"
Sometimes the best way to get a point across is through humor. And with this team being so incredibly young, laughter is going to be necessary at times to get beyond what could be an abnormal amount of bumps in the road.
As a redshirt sophomore, shooting guard Dimitri Batten knows just how pointed and sharp Taylor's comments can be. He's heard them for two years.
"I keep telling the new guys not to worry about how coach Taylor says something and to concentrate on the message he's trying to get across," Batten said. "But I do think the coaching staff has loosened up a bit this season."
Taylor said the one aspect of this team where the Monarchs really are experienced is in the coaching staff.
"We have over 40 years of coaching together," Taylor said. "Not 40 years of coaching experience, but 40 years of `coaching together' experience."
Taylor said he huddled with assistants Jim Corrigan, Rob Wilkes and John Richardson as the preseason approached and "emphasized that the most important thing for us is to be consistent with the message we are giving all of the new guys. I believe the saving grace this season will be the continuity of our staff."
If anything, Taylor hopes his new crop of players is outgoing with the coaching staff and that there is a lot of give and take.
"The southern way is to say, `Yes, sir' too much," Taylor said. "While it's polite, it's sometimes used by players as appeasement, a way to get a coach off their back. This year, that's not going to work. I need feedback from these guys and I need them asking us questions, and a lot of them."
In two weeks, the Monarchs will unveil this year's fun bunch to its adoring fans when ODU takes on Mount Olive (Nov. 1) and Virginia State (Nov. 5) in a pair of exhibition games. Shortly thereafter, the season arrives.
At least it will arrive with the Monarchs at home as they host the Liberty Tax Classic Nov. 9-11 at the Ted Constant Convocation Center. ODU will take on Holy Cross, Morgan State and Texas-San Antonio on back-to-back-to-back days. With so much basketball in such a short timeframe, there will be plenty of minutes for the new guys.
And by then, they might know what Taylor means when he throws out an acronym or tells them to get to the "garden spot."
"With this bunch, I don't care how young you are," Taylor said. "I care how good you are."
With all of the new one-liners, Taylor finally relied on an old stand-by: "Sooner or later, these guys have to stop looking like a cow staring at a new gate."