ALBANY — Throughout the college basketball offseason, one that’s divided up into a variety of sessions of workouts, first-year coach Dwayne Killings witnessed each of his players deliver “really good moments.”
“We need to have consistency,” Killings said.
The Great Danes started their official preseason Tuesday at SEFCU Arena with a practice six weeks out from their season-opening game against Towson and a little more than six months since Killings was hired in mid-March to replace Will Brown as UAlbany’s men’s basketball head coach. In his first months on the job, Killings revamped the program’s coaching staff and roster, and started the Great Danes down the path he wants to see them travel during his stewardship of the program.
“We learned a lot about what we’re trying to become and who we are — and how far we have to go,” Killings said of the Great Danes’ offseason, which included UAlbany adding nine new players to its roster.
UAlbany is coming off a 7-9 season, an abbreviated one that included several pauses related to the novel coronavirus pandemic. While the pandemic remains ongoing, Tuesday’s workout — conducted with music blasting during moments of activity and muted when Killings offered instruction — had a lightness to it that was difficult to find during the 2020-21 season when COVID-19 protocols limited so much on and off the court for players.
Gerald Drumgoole, a transfer from Pittsburgh, echoed his new head coach that “the key is consistency” for the Great Danes as they started practice. Drumgoole said the mood was different at Tuesday’s practice than in past UAlbany workouts, a nod to knowing there is “less room for error” now that the countdown to the start of the season can be measured in weeks rather than months.
But, Drumgoole said, Tuesday’s session was one that brought with it a positive outlook.
“It’s the first day to accomplish our goals for the season,” Drumgoole said.
“It definitely feels like a different energy in the gym,” said Jamel Horton, who is one of six returning Great Danes.
Horton said it’s important for UAlbany to utilize each practice. With so many new players and a new coaching staff, the Great Danes are still “becoming a team,” as Killings put it, and Horton said the team knows that process will be, well, a process.
“We’ve got to acknowledge what we do well, but get better at what we don’t do well,” Horton said. “We’ve got to focus on that, day by day. There’s always room to get better.”
And, with the non-conference season within reach, Killings said he could sense a strengthened excitement from his players ahead of taking the court Tuesday.
“They know now it’s for real,” Killings said.