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JMU Preseason Primer

October 25, 2011

The 2011-12 installment of the James Madison basketball team will be on display for the first time Wednesday night, when the Dukes host an exhbition game at 7 p.m., against Philadelphia University (a Division II team coached by recent Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame inductee Herb Magee).

These Dukes are different than the ones we saw last, being pummled 85-65 by Davidson in the CBI Tournament. So before you ask where’s he? and  who’s that?, read on.

And with the actual season 2 ½ weeks down the corner, there are some longer-term issues to consider as well.

– And starting for your Dukes…  Right now Humpty Hitchens and Andrey Semenov are the only two players coach Matt Brady has penciled in as “starters” for the regular season. Best guess is that senior Julius Wells and junior Wyoming transfer A.J. Davis, and junior center Trevon Flores join them in the pre-game announcements Wednesday.

Hitchens will slide from the “2” to point guard – a position he played at Akron – in Devon Moore’s absence during the first semeseter.

Semenov was an ace sixth man last year because his skillset is so diverse that he could fill the void of any exiting player, whether the Dukes needed to replace shooting, rebounding, defending or passing. He’ll get the nod early in the season because he’s been consistent throughout practice, whereas last year’s starting power forward, Rayshawn Goins, has yet to practice because of a high ankle sprain.

“Rayshawn’s injury has a lot to do with it,” Brady said. “Plus Andrey’s been playing really well. He’s been a good player and he’s here everyday and he’s healthy and shooting the ball well. He’s taking all good shots. He’s a challenge for our young guys to guard.”

 – Goins’ injury isn’t serious, except that it is… Goins was in good spirits and said he’d be back by next week, last time I spoke with him. While that may be true, this is the type of injury that could disrupt his senior season. The 6-foot-6, 275-pound forward was committed to shedding weight and becoming more fit this season. Knowing his personality – he’s a guy that takes nothing in life for granted and has learned the value of hard work in college – there was a good chance he’d get there.

But an ankle injury isn’t like a thumb injury. There’s not a whole lot of useful cardio – aside from churning out miles on a stationary bike – that a 275-pounder can do on one good foot.

Goins is going to have to play catch-up in the fitness game, and Brady might not have the patience for it. The fourth-year coach said a while back that if Goins wasn’t fit this year, he wouldn’t play. Brady feels he has the roster depth to motivate his players with the carrot of playing time. Goins has to show an undying work ethic when he gets back to maintain his spot as a key guy for this team.

Crane your necks if you’re in the reserved seats…  In addition to a notebook, a pen and a tape recorder, I’m going to have to start bringing a step-stool to cover this year’s team. All 6-feet, 10 inches of Denzel Bowles are gone, but 6-11 Gene Swindle, 6-10 Keynan Pittman and 6-8 Enoch Hood joined the team, which already had the 6-11 Flores. This makes it tough on a 5-foot-8 reporter, but more pertinently, it should be tough on opposing offenses to finish at the rim. Hood smiled when he charecterized himself as a “shot blocker,” but let me down when he said he doesn’t do the Dikembe finger wag after swats. Maybe Flores, being the exeprienced Duke, will add it to his arsenal.

-Speaking of Flores…  Everyone is speaking of Flores – his coaches, his teammates, my barber (in fairness, I cut my own hair). The junior added some strength to his previously-giraffe-like frame and according to the Dukes, he’s got his post moves down pat.

Flores lost his mother at way too young an age during the summer. Connecting that type of personal situation to his basketball career isn’t fair. But Flores has been more focused and determined than ever, his teammates say. This could be the year his game ascends to the level the Dukes have always hoped to see.

-Keep your eyes on #30… That’s freshman Arman Marks, one of the most energetic, likeable players you’ll see. The Dukes have talked about chemistry issues hurting them for the past few seasons. Marks seems like the type of person who can singlehandedly alter the mood of an entire locker room, even as a freshman. He’s consistently the last guy staying after practice – “He’s as much a gym rat as I’ve had since I’ve been here,” Brady said – and he always looks happy.

“I go hard in practice to make the game easy,” Marks said. … “500 [shots] a day. That’s what Coach Brady made me do. He definitely pushes me. All the coaches push me, even players. They love to push me.”

At 6-foot-4, 200 pounds, Marks doesn’t have a freshman body, and he’s not afraid to show it either, typically taking his jersey off to reveal his cut physique once practice ends. He might not be a big-time contributor right away, but smart money says he will by the time he’s an upperclassman.

-Anyone else new? …  The Dukes have a new invited walk-on, sophomore guard Christian Pierce, a 6-5 shooter. Pierce was somewhat of a high school legend at Western Albemarle. Brady said before practice began that Pierce, who had been working out with the team last spring, might actually get a chance to play if he can stay in front of his man on defense. We’ll probably see him Wednesday, but not much more after that. Last year’s walk-ons, Andre Prince and Kevin McGaughey, combined for 24 minutes of garbage-time burn.

-D-Fence! D-Fence?…  It’s a question mark every year at JMU and will be a point of emphasis for the team in its exhibition game. Philadelphia runs a lot of halfcourt sets and screens away from the ball, somewhat similar to William & Mary. W&M was obviously a team the Dukes struggled to defend last year. If defense truly is the Dukes’ focus, they should absolutley suffocate a Division II team on Wednesday. Expect to see them toy with different presses and try to create ball-pressure across the court.

-How are Humpty’s handles? …  This will be the first extended look at Hitchens in the role of point guard. Brady won’t ask him to be a playmaker like Moore, but instead to just protect the ball and get the team into its halfcourt offense. While turnovers is an obvious stat to look at for any point guard, it’s espsically important for Hitchens. At 5-9 he doesn’t have the size to make some of the passes over defenders like Moore can, so it will be important for Hitchens to know his limitations and not try to do too much. Akron coach Keith Dambrot said this week that Hitchens was a “scoring point guard” for the Zips. Hitchens will still be able to provide a spark with his outside shooting, but his main task for these Dukes will be to play under control.

– Who looks good in street clothes?…  With Moore, James Millen and Goins all unavailable for the exhbition game, there may be times where there’s as much talent on the sideline as there is on the court. I’m just concerned with what they’ll be wearing. Moore, who sat out all of 2009-10 with a knee injury, set the standard for sideline attire – wearing a mint sweater vest one night, and bright red dress shoes the next. Millen, who spent all of last year off the court, took on a more casual look. Goins was a warmups-wearer when he missed two games last season.

One Comment leave one →


  1. Must. Resist. Urge…

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