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Monarch Insider No. 7 - Meet The Monarchs and The Start of Practice

Courtesy: ODU Athletics
         
Release: October 17, 2010
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Oct. 17, 2010

Monarch Insider #7 - Meet the Monarchs and the start of practice

It's "Christmas" for basketball junkies like me

Brendan O'Hallarn Monarch Basketball Insider

One of my favorite weeks of basketball season just ended. After obsessing about ODU hoops since March, talking with my basketball fan friends all summer, seeing the guys around campus once school started, and watching workouts on weekday mornings throughout September, this past week is when everything comes together.

The Meet the Monarchs dinner last Wednesday was a reunion with many of the friends I've made following ODU basketball. And Friday night's first practice was a goosebump-inducing "here we go!" moment for me, basketball junkie.

Less than four weeks until the Georgetown game. I'm not just counting the days ... I'm counting the minutes!

Meet the Monarchs is an event that Coach Blaine Taylor started, to connect the team with fans in the community. Begun at the Harbor Club, the event has moved to the Norfolk Yacht and Country Club to accommodate the demand for fans seeking an up-close look at the team.

Since I'm used to seeing the players wearing practice sweats, it's a nice change to see them spiffed up at the dinner. The players typically congregate together before the dinner starts, when one player will be assigned to each table.

A couple of the more outgoing upperclassmen don't bother to hang out with their teammates. In the half-hour before sitting down for dinner, senior forwards Frank Hassell and Keyon Carter stand in the Yacht Club foyer, shaking hands with the many fans who wander by for a chat.

"I like the face-to-face, really connecting with fans on a more personal level," Carter said. "I've always saw it as an opportunity to meet some people, ask fans how their day is going.

"A couple of the guys seem to huddle up and get into their little quad, and talk to each other. To each his own. I like to break away from that and meet some people. It's fun."

Once the dinner starts, Blaine Taylor acts as a gregarious emcee. Taking the Christmas analogy a little further, he's the rambunctious uncle in the sweater with the light-up reindeer.

"Even our players don't know what's going to happen here. It's kind of like a timeout," Taylor said.

One at a time, each player interviews another player on the team, starting with the seniors interviewing the freshmen. Not all the players are gifted public speakers, but they all make an effort to smile and be gregarious and engaging with their answers. A few highlights...

Senior guard Ben Finney got a big round of applause when he said he's on track to graduate in May, which will make him the first member of his family to earn a college degree.

Associate Head Coach Jim Corrigan read a letter from Gerald Lee, the senior captain of last year's team, who's playing professionally in Italy. "This year, I believe the team is going to win the CAA Championship again, and make a better run at the NCAA Tournament," Lee wrote. "I really don't need to say anything else, because Y'ALL know what to do." The crowd erupted.

Rookie Richard Ross, whose athletic exploits during team workouts have been the talk of basketball fans, was asked by Carter to describe his leaping ability. "Everyone, can you imagine LeBron James with a jet-pack?" he said, bringing the loudest cheer of the night.

Meet the Monarchs and the open Friday night practice are ODU basketball's answer to the flashy "Midnight Madness" events that many teams conduct on the first official day of practice.

Taylor told me he prefers what ODU does. For one thing, with Georgetown visiting in only four weeks, the coaches are loathe to give up a practice to shoot fireworks and have a slam dunk contest. But also, "it's kind of what we're about. We're more about getting down to work than saying, `Look at us,'" Taylor said.

The Friday night practice had a collegial feel. A few dozen of the team's die-hard fans sat on folding chairs in the practice gym of the Dr. Jim Jarrett Administration Building. The practice (in fact all ODU men's practices are this way) was run with crispness, each drill moving seamlessly into the next. The coaches and former players among the spectators nodded in approval as the drills evolved. A few quick observations...

During a two-on-one chase drill -- where two players race to a basket guarded by a single defender, with another defender in hot pursuit - a few of the players proved unstoppable. Guard Kent Bazemore flew up for a thunderous alleyoop dunk on a pass from point guard Darius James. Taylor had to turn away so Bazemore wouldn't see him grin.

During a drill where three players would fight for rebounds and try to put them back in the net, it was a treat to watch Finney and guard Marquel DeLancey, two of the team's most tenacious warriors, fight under one of the baskets for every ball. Once the scrimmages started, redshirt freshman guard Josh Hicks missed a couple of three pointers in a row. But as one of the team's designated triggermen, Hicks comes equipped with the requisite lack of a conscience. He let fly from 25 feet the next time down the court, missing narrowly and shaking his head as if amazed that the bomb didn't drop.

After practicing this week, the players will pull on the team uniforms for the first time on Saturday, during the annual Blue/White Game. The game will be at noon on homecoming Saturday at the Ted Constant Convocation Center.

If this week was like Christmas, the Blue/Whit Game is our first present.

Brendan O'Hallarn, an employee in public relations at Old Dominion University, writes Monarch Basketball Insider. To see other stories, please see the Monarch Insider website, at http://www.odusports.com/ot/monarch-insider.html. If you would like to share your thoughts about ODU basketball, or have a story you'd like to see Brendan write, contact him at brendanwork@hotmail.com.

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