Mountaineers open men's basketball practice
by Steve Behr Sports Editor
If there's one thing Appalachian State head men's basketball coach Jason Capel wants from his players during the first days of fall practices, it's for them to compete.
Capel wants his Mountaineers to learn all of the mental aspects of the game too, but above all, he wants them to compete. The Mountaineers have until Nov. 8, when they play their first game of the season at N.C. State, to become competitive enough to be ready for the Wolfpack. The Mountaineers have games at Cincinnati and at Georgia in November, so they'll get their chance to find out if they can compete with not just the Southern Conference, but with some teams from the power conferences.
"We do a lot of stuff as far as breaking it down and post-perimeter and putting things in offensively and defensively," Capel said. "Everything I'm going to do is going to end up being some kind of competition. I want guys to understand that the guys standing next to them is who they have to beat. I want guys to learn how to compete. Competing and playing hard are two different things."
Capel pointed to Appalachian State 65-62 loss to eventual SoCon Tournament champion Davidson as an example of how the Mountaineers competed. Davidson, which went 17-1 in the SoCon and 26-8 overall last season, posted an 87-57 win over the Mountaineers just a month earlier, and 79-56 win in January.
"We came pretty close to beating Davidson, and that's something I've reminded the guys about all year," Capel said. "We grew up a lot that ballgame. I thought that ballgame catapulted us into having a great summer. I think it's what catapulted us into having such a good first day."
Appalachian State returns 10 players and four starters from last year's team, which finished 15-16 overall 10-8 and in second place in the Southern Conference's North Division. App State returns point guard Mike Neal, off-guard Tab Hamilton, and forwards Michael Obacha and Jay Canty to the starting lineup.
Capel said the good news about the first practice was that the veterans retained much of what they learned form last season. The bad news is that the three freshmen have to get used to being on a college basketball court.
"It was a first practice," Capel said. "We did some good things and obviously have some things to work on. Guys are working hard, but we're not working smart right now. The older guys know what they're doing. They're doing it fast and they're doing it strong. I think they newer guys are just hesitant because they're trying to figure things out."
Capel said the Mountaineers bring a much bigger team to the court this fall. App State has three players who stand at least 6-foot-8 (Rantavious Gilbert, Obacha and Mike Kobani) and another -- Tommy Spagnolo -- who is 6-7.
"We're big. We're really, really big," Capel said. "We have some guys who have been here know what they're doing and know what I expect. That part of it's been fun, so it was a good day."
Capel also has another player, 6-8 Jacob Lawson, who transferred from Purdue. Lawson has to sit out a season because of NCAA transfer rules, who the coach feels can contribute once he is eligible.
"He was the best player on the floor," Capel said. "I wish he was playing this year."
Capel called the Mountaineers' conditioning "fantastic." He was happy with how the Mountaineers got stronger and more athletic through their offseason conditioning.
Capel also said that the circumstances surrounding the Devonte Graham has not been a distraction to him or the players. National columnists have objected to Capel's decision not to grant Graham a release from his national letter of intent after Graham signed with App State during the early signing period of Nov. 2012.
"I don't think those 14 guys know what's going on," Capel said of his players. "For me, I'm coaching my team. I have a really good team.
"It's not a distraction, because it's something we don't have any control over."