By Bob Flynn
Register Sports Writer
The Colonels won their ninth straight game Saturday in Chattanooga and with finals going on all week, won’t play again until Sunday when they travel to Champagne Ill., to take on the 10th-ranked Illini.
But just because the players are taking exams and there are no games on the schedule doesn’t mean this will be a week off for the team.
EKU coach Jeff Neubauer said he tries to keep his team’s schedule as close to normal as possible during exam week.
“I typically don’t worry about our team losing focus or anything during exam week because we typically keep things pretty regular for them. We practice very hard. We don’t take it easy on them just because they are taking tests,” Neubauer said after Monday’s practice. “And I think that is actually good for them because that is what they are used to, so our schedule this week will be very similar to a regular week.”
So what does a normal exam week look like for an EKU basketball player?
After returning to Richmond from Chattanooga around 2 a.m. Sunday, the players were back at work for a couple of hours Sunday afternoon lifting weights and watching game film.
On Monday, each player had individual workout sessions with assistant coaches. The team will practice today and Wednesday, will have Thursday off, then will use their practices Friday and Saturday, as they normally do the two days before a game, preparing for their next opponent.
Neubauer said he likes the attitude of his team and the way they’ve approached exam week.
“I think our guys really have a good spirit about them right now and are working hard. I let my assistant coaches run the workouts today, but you could see that guys were sweating and shooting the ball well and really into it,” Neubauer said.
Many people have the perception that with no classes during the holiday break the next few weeks, teams have an unlimited amount of practice time to devote to individual areas of need.
But Neubauer said that is not really the case, that his team actually only has the two practices Thursday and Friday and two more days Dec. 26 and Dec. 27 that are not dedicated toward game preparation.
“Really the only extra time we have are the two days this exam week and perhaps we can devote two practices when we get back from Christmas that we can spend on things that are not about any opponent, that we can spend getting our team better,” Neubauer said. “What you do get this time of year is, even though there are no classes between now and Dec. 30, we are still investing time preparing for Illinois, preparing for High Point and West Virginia and everyone else on our schedule.”
Neubauer said he typically gives the players 3 1/2 days off for Christmas so the players can go home to be with their families.
That break, Neubauer said, usual re-energizes the players and they are ready to go back to work when they return.
“In the past, we’ve had a great return from our players. Meaning, the guys enjoy their time at home with their families, but I think our guys enjoy being around their teammates as well and they are happy to get back with their team and look forward to the challenges ahead,” Neubauer said.
After opening the season with seven straight home games, the Colonels had back-to-back wins on the road last week.
Neubauer said he was pleased with the way the team handled the hostile environments last week, which should help when they hit the road for conference games.
“I think our guys did really well. A lot of it had to do with our guards. Glenn Cosey and Mike DiNunno not only played hard, they handled the environment very well,” Neubauer said. “At North Carolina Central we took a lead early, they came back and took the lead late in the half, then our run at the end of the half was huge. At Chattanooga we got off to a good start and never trailed, so it was a little bit different. But every time you step out into a different venue it does help your team.”
EKU’s defense begins with DiNunno and Cosey, Neubauer said, and though the defense has played well and he credits it for the team being undefeated, it needs to be much better.
“Our defense starts on the ball, so when the ball crosses half court with our opponents, it is typically either Mike or Glenn defending that person, so there is no doubt our energy, our success, depends on how our defense on the ball is,” Neubauer said. “Our defense has been good, but we are not playing championship-level defense yet. So the challenge now is to keep improving at what we are doing and helping our guys understand what that improvement looks like.”
One area Neubauer said his team still needs to improve significantly on heading into the conference season is rebounding, especially on the defensive end. But he said his team has the right attitude and willingness to work on those things and he’s confident it will get there.
“We’ve got coachable guys and good people. They want to learn. They want to be good players, they want to be successful on the court. It is just a challenge to keep improving and keep pushing the envelope,” Neubauer said. “But I think the feeling and demeanor of the team right now is just right.”
By Bob Flynn
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