Prepare For Phi Slama Dickey

It may be only the second of November. It may still be the heart of the football season. Baseball is just ending -- unless you're an Astros fan, and then baseball season finished in early April.

But as hard as it is to believe, college basketball season is less than two weeks away. And it's a two weeks that can't come soon enough for Houston Cougar basketball fans, yet might be coming too soon for the Cougar coach and players.

The team has been in official, fulltime practice-mode since mid-October. The players have been learning James Dickey's offensive system. They've been soaking up his call for defensive pressure.

Meanwhile Dickey has been seeking his starting five, been trying to figure out some kind of bench rotation, and been trying to get his guys in game condition.

The practice focus has been on toughness, defense, playing hard, and shot selection. He wants the team playing disciplined basketball because playing disciplined basketball, playing fundamentally sound basketball, is going to be the key to the team's success this season.

But despite the call for discipline and toughness, Dickey and the players believe the fans are going to enjoy what they see on the floor, and Dickey believes the players are going to enjoy doing what he asks.

"We're going to give guys the freedom to shoot," Dickey said last week. "We're not going to give everybody the same freedom. But we're going to give guys the opportunity to shoot, understanding what is their shot, what can they hit 50 percent of the time inside the arc, what can they hit 37 percent outside the arc. Understanding are they balanced, are they open, do they have a good look at it. Just simple fundamentals. We're just not going to shoot a shot just because we happen to be open."

This will be important for the Cougars seeing as how they're absent go-to scorers like Aubrey Coleman and Kelvin Lewis this season. But Dickey's confident that if his guys run his system and play within themselves, then they'll be okay.

"I think I actually like what we're doing as far as offense," said senior shooting guard Adam Brown. "It's not necessarily about volume shots, it's about selective shots. If you're hitting the shots you take, then you don't have to take more shots."

Yes, a structured offense might be a shock for the UH faithful, but without the offensive players of years past, the structure will be a necessity. But an even bigger necessity will be a stronger defensive presence, and this is one of the bigger things that Dickey is stressing at the moment. And it's an area of importance that the players understand.

"We're going to play defense," Dickey promises. "We're going to guard people. We're going to work very hard not to give up lay-ups, not to give up wide open shots. We want a team that's going to be tough. We want to dive on the floor after lose balls. We want to give our bodies up to take charges....Playing hard all of the time, every minute that you're on the court, whether it be offensively or defensively."

The Cougars have an exhibition match-up on Saturday as they host Abilene State. The Dickey-era officially opens next Friday night when the Cougars host Nicholls State at Hofheinz.

Dickey's biggest concerns, right now, are game conditioning, and settling on a starting five. His starting five, to open the season, will be based on which players are having the best practices -- practicing hard, understanding the system, etc. But once the season gets going, the lineup will be based on one thing: production on the court.

As for conditioning, Dickey says that nothing is better for that than playing actual games, and the best way for that happen to, now, is simulating games in practice. For that to happen, he claims, he's going to have to shut up in practice because he has the tendency to stop play so that he can go out on the court and better demonstrate what he wants done.

But while the conditioning might be important, the players don't mind the stops in the action because they're actually learning things when Dickey stops action, and that's a notable difference over years past.

"I think practices are going really good," Brown said. "With him stopping, it's just not him talking, it's him teaching, and that's learning. I think him taking time off to stop practice, it gets us a chance to retain it so we can actually show in our actions on the court, rather than last year where we kept going. We'd make a mistake, and we'd keep going and not learn from it. I think our practice is more educational."

But the time for learning is almost over. Next week, it's go time.

A MISCELLANEOUS NOTE: Men and women's basketball are hosting the Houston Hardwood Tip-Off tomorrow night. The event begins at 7 p.m. on the volleyball court inside the Alumni Center, and admittance is free to all fans. The teams will practice, take part in various competitions, and will then sign autographs at the end of the session.


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