It had been 75 days from the time Jason Shay was hired as East Tennessee State’s basketball coach to the time he got do what he loves best — get on the court and coach.
The Bucs hit the court this week in their first organized practices since last season was abruptly ended with the team awaiting its NCAA Tournament assignment.
“It was great to get back on the court and just be able to teach and be with the guys and help them get better, just excited about the opportunity,” Shay said Wednesday. “You know there’s a lot of new faces out there. To be down there on the court with them and help them improve was exciting.”
Shay will have a lot of holes to fill in the lineup after losing most of the key players from the 30-4 team that won the Southern Conference regular-season and tournament championships.
“I think we’ve got a lot of weapons; I think we’ve got a lot of versatility,” he said. “I think we’re going to be able to score. You’re going to have to guard us at a lot of different positions, which is exciting. We’re going to be interchangeable. We’re going to be versatile.”
The Bucs opened practice Monday and NCAA rules allow them four hours a week this time of year. Shay has them working out an hour at a time four days a week.
After the first two practices, the new coach was pleased with the team’s progress.
“The improvement from day one to day two was outstanding, phenomenal,” he said. “They really listened and they’re willing to learn. The first day there wasn’t as much excitement, probably because it’s new terminologies, new environment, new teammates. But the energy was much better yesterday, and picking up what we talked about from the day before and applying it to when we did some live interactions was really good. I was really pleased the way things went yesterday.”
One player was missing during the first practices. Silas Adheke, the graduate transfer from Northern Kentucky, still has one class to finish before he can join the team. Shay said it’s only a matter of time before he gets his work done and arrives in Johnson City.
Shay pointed out Truth Harris and Marcus Niblack as two players who caught his attention early.
“The freshmen point guards, they’re very explosive,” Shay said. “You know you can see it on film but until you see it with your own eyes, you don’t know. But they’re explosive and they can jump. Truth is fast and Marcus has bursts.”
Patrick Good is the only returning player who started at least 10 games last year and is expected to play a big role again. So is Ledarrius Brewer, who sat out last year after transferring from Southeast Missouri State. There were reports last season that he was the best player on the court during some of ETSU practices.
Brewer’s brother, Southeastern Louisiana forward Ty Brewer, is one of three transfers awaiting word from the NCAA on their fate for this season. David Sloan, a point guard from Kansas State, and Serrel Smith, a guard from Maryland, are the others.
ETSU has asked the NCAA for waivers to allow them to play immediately without having to sit out a season.
“It’s a process we’re going through right now and getting them filed,” Shay said. “We’re kind of going as is right now, trying to get them better trying to get them ready. You’ve got to assume that they’re going to get (the waivers). We have plenty of time to adjust if they don’t.”
Even though they’re practicing and the schedule says the first game is Nov. 10, nobody really knows when the season will start with all of the uncertainty caused by the coronavirus pandemic.
“It’s just the uncertainty,” Shay said. “It’s a strain. It’s stressful. I’m trying to decipher how hard I need to train my guys.
“Are we going to play in November or is it going to be pushed back to January? Is it going to be just conference games? All of that is a challenge on decisions that I’m making, but as of right now, the season starts on Nov. 10 and that’s what we’re working toward.”