Eagle basketball to rely on returning leadership among youthful roster
With 10 new players, including six freshmen, men's basketball head coach Preston Spradlin is concerned with more than just shot selection, rebound position, and defensive posture.
There is a more basic question that must first be answered.
Who will be the leaders of his Morehead State men's basketball team?
The Eagles have no seniors and only three juniors, two of whom are transfers.
The one returning junior, Lamontray Harris, and sophomore guard Jordan Walker are consciously working at being the leaders that Spradlin needs.
"Just being a guy that the newcomers can ask questions to - as far as with the coaching situation or in game situations, just how to go about things," Harris said of his leadership role. "I feel like I should be that guy everybody looks up to and asks questions of, and be more than happy to answer them."
A 6-foot-7, 240-pounder out of Pleasure Ridge Park High School in Louisville, Harris is Morehead State's top returning scorer at 9.4 points a game. He also ranked in the top 20 of the Ohio Valley Conference with 5.2 rebounds a game.
Walker is a 6-foot-0, 185-pound sophomore out of Cathedral High School in Indianapolis. He averaged 7.0 points in a reserve role last season and led the OVC with 49.4 percent three-point accuracy.
"I have a bigger role now than last year," Walker said. "I played behind two great players - (Miguel Dicent) and (Xavier) Moon. So I have to pick it up where they left off. Just because I'm young doesn't mean I can't be a leader, too."
With Spradlin in the role of interim head coach last season, the Eagles finished 14-16 overall, 10-6 in the OVC.
With so many new faces now, expectations are modest for Spradlin's first full season as head man. Both the OVC media and coaches polls placed MSU in the No. 9 spot.
Harris and Walker have bigger goals, and they know that their leadership could be a key.
"I have to be more comfortable telling somebody they're doing something wrong and holding them accountable than just being too nice, where they don't listen to me," Walker said. "I have to be able to tell them what they've got to do and what they're not doing."
In addition to being the answer man, Harris plans to lead by using positive energy.
"Having energy all the time," he said of how he plans to lead. "I feel like that's contagious. You have good energy, it starts to rub off on people.
"And leading by example," Harris continued. "All the time, not just sometimes. All the time - on and off the court - will help carry a lot of weight. And we're surrounded by good people, so not so much pressure is on both of us. Because our coaching staff also does a good job of that, too."
Harris says he grew as a player by necessity last campaign, taking on added responsibility when Spradlin took over from former head coach Sean Woods during the season. Harris heeded Spradlin's advice of paying "attention to the little things."
Spradlin is excited about what Harris has to offer.
"(Harris) is a guy that, when I put my staff together, we started talking about our pieces coming back as we were building our new pieces coming in," Spradlin said. "He's got great ability, great talent, great athleticism. He's a big-time competitor and he really wants to win. And wants to be a great player in this league, because that's what we talked about from day one in recruiting three years ago."
Harris spent the summer on campus, working out almost every day to improve his skill set. He worked in the weight room to change his body. And, Spradlin says, he was able to even work on his maturity - being a leader.
"I knew Lamontray was going to have a mouthpiece with this team," Spradlin said. "He's got a glowing personality and he's the guy everyone should look at. He's the most veteran player we have. So we wanted to make sure that the message he was conveying to the rest of our team when they got here was a positive one and was a reflection of what we wanted as a staff, and as a program going forward.
"And he's done it," Spradlin said. "I mean, he's just been so great - his learning to be a leader, his competitiveness, his ability to be coached. Just all these things have really improved. And I'm very excited to see where that takes him as a player this year and where it takes us as a team."
Spradlin says Walker also has matured. Player told coach that he would like to lead.
"And I said, 'well, great; you have to allow me to show you how to do that,'" Spradlin said. "I don't think you can walk in the locker room and just put a 'C' on someone's chest and say 'you're the guy; go ahead and lead 'em.' It doesn't work that way.
"So you've got to show them how to do it," continued Spradlin. "And it's hard. It's a hard thing. It's not pretty always. It's not fun. You're not going to be everybody's friend, whether you're the coach or whether you're the player, but it's necessary. And my message to the entire team, not just Jordan, is once it becomes their team, they begin to police each other. Coach each other. Hold each other accountable. Motivate each other. And it's not me all the time doing it. Then we'll have a chance to be pretty good."
In addition to Harris and Walker, Spradlin says he has a leader among the newcomers in Adrian Hicks, a 6-foot-0 junior college transfer.
Spradlin says Hicks is quiet by nature, but has been working on becoming vocal. He also has been leading by example, as demonstrated during a recent practice.
"We had practice at 7:30 Saturday morning of (football) Homecoming," Spradlin said. "He was in here at 6 o'clock. Full-blown sweat. By himself. No one asked him to do it. Getting extra work in.
"And then he came in and dominated a two-hour practice. That's the kind of players that we want here, and that's the kind of players we're going to develop."
The Eagles have their lone home exhibition Monday against Cincinnati Christian, then open the regular season Nov. 10 at No. 17 Xavier.