Marshall basketball: Herd starting anew
HUNTINGTON -- One would think that, with the energy Marshall men's basketball Coach Tom Herrion shows on the sideline, nothing could get him to ratchet it up a notch. But as he begins summer practice sessions this week, his retooled roster is doing the trick.
"This group has probably energized me more than any group I've been with," Herrion said Tuesday on the Cam Henderson Center court. "It's really been a fun group, with so many new faces and fresh blood. They've had a great attitude and I'm excited about that."
The transformation of the Herd's roster has been significant -- and was somewhat sudden. When Marshall's disappointing 2012-13 season concluded with a first-round lost to Tulane in the Conference USA Tournament and a 13-19 final record, the Herd looked like it had three starters returning in all-conference second-teamer DeAndre Kane, Elijah Pittman and D.D. Scarver.
Then Kane and Marshall parted ways at the end of April. Kane ultimately transferred to Iowa State and Scarver followed Kane out of the program seven days later. The team also lost reserve guard Chris Martin and forward Jamir Hanner, who transferred to Mount St. Mary's and Buffalo, respectively.
With senior post players Dennis Tinnon, Nigel Spikes and Robert Goff graduating, the Herd went from returning its top three scorers to losing five of its top six. Only Pittman's team-best 16.1 points per game comes back from that group.
It's not just that younger players like guards Tamron Manning and DeVince Boykins and veteran reserves like centers Yous Mbao and J.P. Kambola must increase their influence. The table is set for an army of new players to contribute significantly. Marshall not only welcomed three junior college transfers in forwards Shawn Smith and Cheikh Sane and guard Justin Edmonds, but three other players have a chance to make their marks after sitting a year.
Guard Kareem Canty and forward Ryan Taylor join the roster after spending a year as academic non-qualifiers. Former George Washington star TyQuane Goard is ready to go after sitting a year as a transfer from Ohio University.
The influx of new faces has the team moving at a deliberate pace this July. The incoming players must get used to both each other and the nuances of a new team.
"Right now, we're just trying to get our guys acclimated to some of our terminology," Herrion said. "It's going to be a little bit slower of a process with this group because we have so many new guys. The teaching has got to take place at somewhat of a slower level, for the most part."
For Canty, who was expected to make a major impact at point guard last year, these practice sessions are his chance to finally show those expectations were right. The list of people he'll be passing to changed drastically from the end of last season until now, so this is his time to learn the new dynamic.
"You've just got to get a feel for everybody," he said, "where everybody wants the ball, who's most comfortable in certain spots. Just know everybody's game, really, and have a connection with everybody."
While the change was significant, Pittman said it hasn't been volatile. He said the energy throughout the roster has been very positive, and that every player has worked through the summer to help the Herd become a more cohesive unit.
"There's good energy in here," Pittman said. "Everyone wants to work. Everyone wants to go to the weight room and the gym. Everyone wants to do everything the coaches want and the team wants. They put the team first."
Even with so many fresh faces, Herrion said there is no time to dwell on that fact. Marshall's absence from the NCAA Tournament has grown to 26 years. Many thought the roster the Herd sported last season could break that streak, but it only led to Marshall's worst season since Coach Ron Jirsa's final year in 2006-07.
That's what makes these summer sessions so important, Herrion said. The opportunity is there to start anew and unfamiliarity must be kept from being any excuse for not being able to improve.
"That's gone now," Herrion said. "They're here. Now it's our job as coaches to acclimate everybody and the process has begun," he said. "The process has already been in motion. I told them we've had a very good first half of our summer. These next five to six weeks have to be great, and that starts with everybody."
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MBAO underwent minor surgery on his left knee last week but should be ready to return for next week's practice sessions, Herrion said.
Contact sportswriter Derek Redd at firstname.lastname@example.org or 304-348-1712. His blog is at blogs.dailymail.com/marshall. Follow him on Twitter @derekredd.