Individual spring workouts began for the USI men’s basketball team this week. But a couple of weeks off since the end of the season apparently weren’t enough of a rest. “We’re all still mentally tired,” said head coach Rodney Watson. But the work continues anyway. Watson is having his players concentrate on strength and skills training in an effort to get both on equal footing. This far out from the start of next season might seem odd, but he’s trying to get them to develop good practice and workout habits that they can take with them into the real off-season — the four-month, unsupervised summer break. Many a player has turned himself into a force over that time — recall what Brandon Hogg did between his sophomore and junior years, making himself into a high-scoring guard after being nothing more than a bit player off the bench.
Key people to consider in that regard include forward Taylor Wischmeier, who I wrote about for our Sunday print and online edition; guard Ben Jones, who became one of USI’s best defensive players and showed that he could be a deadly outside shooting threat; and point guard DeAndre McCamey, who is coming off a knee injury that cost him the entire season. McCamey, I have to say, is always — and I mean ALWAYS — shooting when I walk into the Physical Activities Center. On Thursday, he was practicing a 16-to-17-foot jumper from along the baseline, and every shot was dropping.
By the way, Wischmeier brought up something interesting when I talked to him Thursday for Sunday’s story. “We have to improve to another level, like Bellarmine and Drury did,” he said. He was talking about Bellarmine’s improvement from the first time USI played the Knights and held them to a season-low 49 points to the second and third time the Eagles played Bellarmine and lost both games badly. When he was talking about Drury, he meant the Panthers’ improvement from last season, when it finished fourth in the GLVC West Division, lost in the second round of the GLVC Tournament and did not receive a berth in the NCAA tournament, to this season, when it finished first in the West, won the GLVC Tournament title and the NCAA Midwest Region championship and will play for the Division II national crown on Sunday afternoon. “We have the pieces,” said Wischmeier. “We just have to see how good we can be.”