By Mike Lehman, TTU Sports Information
COOKEVILLE, Tenn. – The Tennessee Tech basketball team finished its first week of official practice Friday, kicking off the 2017-18 season with a mix of returnees and new faces taking the court in the purple and gold.
Golden Eagle head coach Steve Payne acknowledged the work ethic of the group and just how much work is still left as the first week comes to an end.
"They are a willing group of guys," Payne explained. "We have a lot of work to do, just like everyone else in the country. There is a big gap between the guys who have been here and the new guys, just with what they know and what they're ready to execute offensively and defensively.
"We just have to go back and teach everyone from step one, and it is going to take some time. They are progressing. I like the way they work. They are very coachable and that is big."
The Golden Eagles return seven players from last year's squad, including six of the team's top-eight scorers and four starters. Both senior guard Aleksa Jugovic and graduate guard Kajon Mack started all 32 games last season, while senior forward Mason Ramsey made 30 starts in 32 contests.
Forced to sit out the first half of the 2016-17 campaign, Curtis Phillips Jr. started the final eight games of the season out of a total 22 played. Also back to the lineup is junior guard Stephaun Adams, who spent time over the summer playing for the U.S. Virgin Islands National Team.
Big man Micaiah Henry comes back to man the paint following his redshirt freshman season that saw significant growth throughout the conference slate. Rounding out Tech's returnees is junior forward Courtney Alexander II, who seems destined to build off his 3.8 rebounds per game from last season.
"The seven guys we have back were all key guys for us last year," Payne said. "They are the ones setting the pace and they know what to needs to be done. We just need to keep them all healthy."
Seven newcomers make up the other half of the Golden Eagle roster including one graduate transfer, two junior college transfers, a Division II transfer and three true freshmen. The group includes guards Shaq Calhoun (South Alabama), Maverick Smith (Oakdale HS), Corey Tillery (Armstrong State), Hunter Vick (Camden Central HS) and Cade Crosland (Chattanooga State CC), as well as forwards Joan Duran (Eastern Florida State JC) and Domen Omladič (Solski Center Velenje).
"The new guys are going to help us some," Payne explained. "There a few that can really help us right away, we just need to keep bringing them along. We depend on our leaders to set the standards of how we do things and then pass on to our newcomers. We're definitely getting there."
Payne also acknowledged some early struggles that are common to essentially every team in Division I basketball the first week of the season.
"I'm pleased to have these guys on the court and direction we're heading," Payne said. "Like every team in the country, we have our early challenges. We're turning the ball over left and right, we're not good enough defensively yet, and we're not boxing out good enough yet. But it's the fifth practice. You're not supposed to be really good at all of that just yet.
"We have a group of great kids who work hard. I like a lot of things that we're doing, it's just a process to get where we need to be."
Photo by Thomas Corhern, TTU Sports Information