Extra wind sprints could be part of Schenectady’s next basketball practice session, even if the Patriots are successful in their season debut tonight.
“Thirteen is the number. I’ve challenged the boys,” Schenectady coach Eric Loudis said during a break from Wednesday’s workout. “If we have over 13 turnovers, they run. That’s the deal. If we have less than 13 turnovers, I will run sprints and my junior varsity coaches will run sprints.”
Loudis said he wouldn’t mind too much if he ends up putting in the heavy leg work, along with JV coach Henri Celestine and his assistant, Eugene Maye.
“I want to get back to my old playing shape, anyway,” he said. “Running sprints will help.”
Schenectady can help itself by reducing the turnovers that were a major issue last season and cost the Patriots a slew of scoring opportunities in a six-win campaign. Limiting turnovers was a big point of discussion and on-court work during this preseason as Loudis and his new-look team meshed.
The third-year head coach has only three players back in senior center Darius Macon, senior guard Cody Shafer and junior forward Randall Symes. The trio and their surrounding cast of nine will take on Bishop Maginn tonight in a Big 10 game at the Pat Riley Sports Center, looking to reverse the outcome of Schenectady’s 62-49 season-opening loss to the Golden Griffins a year ago.
“Last year, we’d get a steal and turn it over. We’ve got to protect the ball,” Loudis said. “We can’t go from defense to offense and right back to defense.”
“Coach says defense wins games,” said Macon, one of Section II’s premier shot blockers. “We work on it a lot. We know we’ve got to play, and that way we can get into our transition.”
Defense was a Schenectady strength last season, and Loudis said it must be that way again in a league that features scoring threats such as Siena-bound Javion Ogunyemi and Jerrell Reid of reigning champion Troy, Ralph Erickson of LaSalle, Anthony Mack of Catholic Central, Greig Stire of defending Section II Class AA champ Christian Brothers Academy and Demere Hannah of Bishop Maginn.
“Our defense will be pivotal for us this year,” he said. “I need them to play defense in order for us to be in games.
“We have athletic boys and we’ve got some size. We plan on using different tactics. We’ll use what we feel will put us in the best position to win.”
Schenectady let some games get away last season. Of its 13 setbacks, five came by single digits, including a 52-51 loss to Notre Dame-Bishop Gibbons, a 55-53 loss to Albany Academy in the title game of the Arthur Hilliard Memorial Tournament and a 65-62 loss against Shenendehowa in the opening round of Section II Class AA tourney.
Schenectady rallied from a 22-point, third-quarter deficit in that sectional game before falling short.
“We’ve got to put together four good quarters. There was not one game last year when we did that. We had a lot of three-quarter games,” said Loudis. “We have to play a full 32 minutes. We can’t play 29 minutes and 52 seconds. We’ve got to go down swinging. We can’t be lax. We have to get 50-50 balls, and we have to make free throws.
“Last year, we ended up shooting 62 percent on free throws. For most of the year, we were right around 50 percent.”
With the graduation of leading scorer Jallah Tarver (13.1 ppg.) and so many players unproven at the varsity level, Loudis said offense is a concern, and that’s why he’s placed such a large emphasis on defense and production in transition.
Macon (7.6 ppg.) and Symes (6.6 ppg.) were second and third in points behind Tarver. Macon reached a season-high 21 points last season in a win over Catholic Central, and Symes twice hit for 14, the second time in the loss to Shenendehowa.
“We don’t have a guy who can score like Kobe Bryant,” said Shafer. “We’ve got to hustle like we have in practice. We’ve got to defend hard and try to get some points with our running game.”
Schenectady placed seventh among the nine Big 10 teams last season with its 5-11 mark. In Loudis’ first season, the Patriots tied for third at 11-5 and finished 13-7 overall after a one-point defeat against Shenendehowa in the sectional quarterfinals.
“You know me,” said Loudis. “I like to go under the radar and hopefully, shock a few of them.”
“We do have a lot of new guys, but if we get the chemistry down, we can have a good season,” said Macon. “You never know. If
everything falls together, maybe we can even hang another banner on the wall.”
Troy opens defense of its Big 10 title tonight at home against Notre Dame-Bishop Gibbons, while CBA hosts Catholic Central, and LaSalle travels to Amsterdam, where former Fulton-Montgomery Community College coach Tony Orapello will lead the Running Rams. He took over for Joe Agresta.