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Bucs learning apacka mentality on defense

KELLY HODGE • Oct 28, 2008 at 12:00 AM

JOHNSON CITY — The East Tennessee State men’s basketball team may not score as many points this season, but coach Murry Bartow is determined that it won’t give up as many eit h e r. Defense has been the overriding theme since the Buccaneers got together to prepare for their Labor Day trip to Canada, and that’s still the case two weeks into preseason camp. “Our defense is way ahead of our offense,” Bartow said. “We just made a decision that, darn it, we’re going to be better defensively. “We’ve turned that over to (assistant coach) Scott (Wagers) and have invested a lot of time in it. That’s been our whole emphasis to this point.” Wagers has certainly taken the task to heart, and he said the players have as well. “The first thing we wanted to do was get in that mind-set, stress the importance of defense,” he said Monday. “Murry has given me a lot of time to put things in, and the kids have really bought into it. They’re enjoying it.” Wagers was instrumental in drawing up some of the traps and presses employed by the NCAA tournament teams that featured Zakee Wadood and Jerald Fields a few years ago. He’s had to tailor his approach to this group, which is small and fairly young. The Bucs will likely open the season with a freshman, Adam Sollazzo, at point guard, and a 6-foot-4, 205-pound sophomore, Tommy Hubbard, in the post. “We’ve looked at our personnel this year to see what style of defense fits us,” Wagers said. “I’ve met with the guys at Washington State, Dick Bennett and his assistants, and they’ve shared their philosophy with me. Kevin O’Neill is a good friend of mine; he’s a defensive coach and we talked a lot in the offseason. “We’re going to be mostly man, put a lot of pressure on the ball and be real aggressive. We’re protecting that 15-foot area around the basket. We want one guy guarding the ball and four guys that have his back.” That concept was missing in action last season. ETSU allowed 77.2 points per game, up a whopping 10 points from the previous season, when it won 24 games. The Bucs scored more than 78 points per game but were often forced to win shootouts in a 19-13 campaign. So the makeover began. Wagers is cultivating what he calls a “pack” mentality among the players. He’s been posting flyers around the locker room that show a caricature of a snarling dog and honor individuals for their defensive efforts. A “top dog” is named after each practice. Injured point guard Jocolby Davis, a fairly pedestrian offensive player, was frequently singled out for his pressure on the ball before and during the Canada trip. The team’s best defender may be Hubbard, who brings plenty of that Boston grit to his role as a post defender — thus his starting role on this team. “There’s no excuse not to defend,” Hubbard said. “You can’t always control whether you’re making your shots, but you can control whether the other team is making theirs. It just really bothers me when we’re getting scored on.” Going back to the canine analogies, Hubbard said it isn’t the size of the dog in the fight. “It may be surprising for teams to see me in the post,” he said, “but at the end of the game size doesn’t matter. It’s all about hunger and having that fight in you. You have to be totally committed.” NOTES: The Bucs will host Milligan College in their first preseason exhibition Saturday. Tipoff is set for 4 p.m. at Memorial Center. ... Junior guard Mike Smith, who injured his knee and ankle last week after getting tangled with freshman J.C. Ward, had a clean MRI and is back at practice. ... The chronic knee problems of Greg Hamlin have cropped up again. Bartow said Monday that he’ll sit the senior forward until tendinitis subsides and Hamlin is able to practice at full speed again.

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