Tommy Hubbard hasn’t been able to practice much yet, but East Tennessee State’s senior forward says a sprained shoulder won’t keep him on the sidelines much longer.
“A couple more days and I’ll be out there,” Hubbard said Tuesday. “We’re just being cautious, but I’m almost ready to go. I’m excited about being able to go to battle with these guys.”
There might be less concern over Hubbard if he weren’t such a key cog for this team. He’s a fifth-year guy, one of three seniors, and he led the Bucs in scoring and rebounding two years ago.
Hubbard redshirted last season with knee problems.
Does his absence from practice, less than a week into the preseason, bother his head coach?
“It bothers me,” said Murry Bartow. “This team has a lot of questions, and Tommy is one of our starters — one of the best players in the league. If he’s sitting, that’s not good.”
Assuming he’s on the floor by the end of the week, Hubbard expects to quickly pick up where he left off as a junior, when he averaged 13.9 points and 8.2 rebounds as the Bucs made the NCAA tournament. In the coaches’ eyes, he’s also the team’s best defender.
Hubbard was never himself last season, limping through four games after knee surgery before being shut down.
“I think I’ll be able to do more stuff than two years ago,” he said, “and I had a pretty decent season then. But this isn’t about Tommy Hubbard. This is about team, and doing whatever it takes.”
That said, this team has a different look now that Mike Smith and Micah Williams, two other five-year guys, have moved on, along with starting guard Justin Tubbs.
Hubbard had expected to go out with them. Now he’s the grizzled veteran on a team with four newcomers and two other redshirts – guards Jarvis Jones and Ryan Woumn.
“Myself and the seniors have been here awhile, and we have to be more vocal,” said Hubbard. “Everybody’s role becomes bigger. I do like the chemistry of this team.”
It’s a smallish team, with the 6-4, 210-pound Hubbard playing power forward and Isiah Brown (6-8, 210) starting at center. Recruiting did not yield any extra beef, which means juniors J.C. Ward and Lukas Poderis will be counted on heavily for productive minutes in the frontcourt.
The Bucs were picked second, behind Belmont, in the Atlantic Sun Conference preseason polls.
“This is a team with good speed, a team with athleticism,” said Bartow. “We’ll be small when Tommy is at the 4 and Isiah at the 5. Offensively we’ll be hard to guard, but defensively we’ll have to get more creative.”
The Bucs will be on public display Thursday night during the annual Bluenanza festivities in the Dome. The basketball action begins at 7.
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