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Adam Sollazzo has boiled down preparations for his senior season of basketball at East Tennessee State to the basics.
“Confidence and leadership,” Sollazzo said Friday. “I’ve really worked hard to get ready for this season. I took no days off this summer. It’s my last season and I want to make it count.”
The 6-foot-6 point guard started 28 games as a junior and handed out 145 assists — more than twice the closest teammate. He averaged 9.2 points and 3.2 rebounds.
One thing Sollazzo wants to do this season is become more of a threat on the perimeter. Remarkably, he’s made just four 3-pointers in his ETSU career — on 24 attempts.
“I definitely want to be more of an outside shooter,” he said. “I know I won’t be the top 3-point shooter in the league, but I want to at least make teams respect me out there.”
Sollazzo has steadily earned respect on his own team.
He’s one of three seniors on the roster, along with fifth-year players Isiah Brown and Tommy Hubbard, and will have the ball in his hands a lot this season. He will share minutes at the point with junior Sheldon Cooley — redshirt freshman Ryan Woumn is also in the mix — and may also play shooting guard some.
Coach Murry Bartow thinks Sollazzo could be one of the most impactful guards in the Atlantic Sun Conference.
“Adam’s mindset should be to try to become an all-league guard,” said Bartow. “He’s put himself in position to do that. He has the potential to get us double-figure points every night; he just has to keep the turnovers down and be versatile.
“It’s pretty obvious that for us to be a good team, certain guys have to have great years. Adam would be one of those guys.”
With his height and length, Sollazzo isn’t the typical point guard. He underscored that Thursday night when he won the dunk contest at the team’s annual Bluenanza tipoff event.
Donning a Batman mask and cape, he rose to the occasion in front of more than 1,200 fans and even threw out some Halloween candy at the end.
“It says a lot about his bounce and his showmanship ability. He likes that stage,” said Bartow. “Adam has a lot of athleticism. When you look over the years at some of the plays he’s made, he has big-time bounce.”
When the coach wants a major change of pace, he’ll go to Cooley.
“Those are two very different types of players,” said Bartow. “Adam is tall and has great vision, and he’s shooting the ball better than a year ago. Sheldon is just speed end to end, and we’re a transition-oriented team. He’s worked hard on his shot as well.
“At this point, Sheldon Cooley might be the MVP of our first 10 practices.”
There is a leadership void to be filled, with Mike Smith and Micah Williams, a couple of five-year guys, lost to graduation. Justin Tubbs, another starter, is also gone.
Together, those three combined for more than 42 points and 16 rebounds last season.
“We’ve had to replace some key guys — guys who were important to the program for years,” said Sollazzo. “Mike and Micah were like my brothers. It seems like I’ve known them all my life.”
Sollazzo has tried to take little pieces from each of the influential players who have come through the program during his time here.
“With Mike Smith it was hard work, hard work, hard work,” he said. “Micah Williams just loved the game. With Kevin Tiggs, he appreciated every breath he took. He just loved life.”
Notes: Hubbard, who has been nursing a sprained shoulder, practiced full-speed for the first time on Friday. His teammates and coaches noticed.
“Getting Tommy back on the court, you can see the team’s whole attitude change,” said Sollazzo. “It’s like he hasn’t missed a step with his game or his intensity. That picks everybody up.”
Hubbard led the Bucs in scoring and rebounding two seasons ago. He redshirted last season with knee trouble.
“We look like a different team when he’s on the court,” said Bartow. “He’s so physical and tough, he can do things at both ends that we need done.” …
The Bucs scrimmaged for 56 minutes of game time Saturday morning.
“We obviously need a lot of work,” said Bartow, “but I saw a lot of encouraging things.”