By Mike DeFabo
Times West Virginian
Call Allen Iverson. We’re talking about practice.
Fairmont State University opens its 2013-2014 season today with the first practice.
While Iverson, an 11-time All-Star, infamously touted the workouts as meaningless, the Falcons know better.
The team and second-year coach Jerrod Calhoun have plenty of expectations for the season. Making the playoffs, hosting the NCAA tournament and winning a national championship are just a few of goals the Falcons have expressed.
But the Falcons brought it upon themselves. It’s the way they like it.
“Our goal is to win a national championship,” Calhoun said. “We put expectations on ourselves every day. I think the guys understand that. And we welcome that.”
The Falcons also understand that to accomplish these goals, the team will have to be on top of its game. And quickly.
In the blink of an eye, Fairmont State’s regular season will be here. The Falcons will play an exhibition game at West Virginia University on Nov. 4, just three short weeks away.
Practicing, and getting better each day, is going to be essential to Calhoun and the Falcons getting off to a hot start.
“We’ll be at a little bit of a disadvantage because Division I schools have been practicing for about two weeks,” Calhoun said. “They’ll have much more practice time than we have. We’ve got to get caught up on a lot of stuff.”
The schedule doesn’t get any easier after the exhibition. The Falcons begin the season in earnest with three tough CIAA teams in Bowie State (Nov. 9), Virginia State (Nov. 10) and Winston-Salem State (Nov. 13.)
Calhoun called his schedule “one of the toughest in Division II basketball.” He said his team acknowledges the challenges and is ready to face them.
“There is a concentration level amongst our players that they really understand that we’ve got to be good early,” Calhoun said. “The first three games are all really important games.”
The only thing faster than the way the team has to prepare is the way the team hopes to play.
Calhoun said the team will employ an up-tempo, full-court press style to keep the pressure on opponents. It should help the Falcons create turnovers and score points in transition.
“We're going to play a lot quicker,” Calhoun said. “Since we have a lot more guys off our bench, we're going to press 33 to 34 minutes a game. I think we’ll score the ball a lot more playing fast and up-tempo. I think it will also be a style the fans will really like.”
Much of the offense will go through Brendan Cooper. The 6-foot-7, 200-pound forward is the only returning senior on the team. (Transfer Martins Abele is the other senior.) Cooper was a second-team All-WVIAC selection as a junior last season, averaging 12.6 points per game and pulling down a team-high seven rebounds per contest.
He’ll be joined by several returning players who played considerable minutes last season. Calhoun specifically pointed out sophomores Ke’Chaun Lewis, Stevie Browning and Tommy Scales as players who will make major contributions this season.
“All of those guys have a lot of game experience and have gotten much better,” he said. “They’ve gotten bigger, fast, stronger.”
The biggest question mark for the Falcons is the point guard positions. With Malik Stith gradating, Fairmont State loses its leader in assists (116) and steals (63) and its second-highest scorer (14.7 points per game.)
“Probably the biggest concern is the point guard position and replacing Malik Stith,” Calhoun said. “We’ll do that by committee. We have three very good freshman point guards.”
Those three are Otar Pkhakadze, Shammgod Wells and Caleb Davis.
The trio will have to get up to speed — and fast — if the Falcons are going to get off the quick start Calhoun anticipates.
And it all starts today, with practice. Practice!
Just don’t tell Iverson that.
Email Mike DeFabo at email@example.com or follow him on Twitter @MikeDeFaboTWV.