The Rick Ray era hits another gear this weekend. Maroon Madness is tonight, and then the first preseason practice is Saturday morning. Here’s my story in today’s Journal.
Tonight will be fans’ first peek at a very young team. There are seven newcomers – five of them freshmen – and only three returning scholarship players. Chances are, it’s going to be a rough first season for Ray. But what’s important to him right now isn’t so much results as the approach.
“For me, I want to see progression,” Ray said. “I want to see our team getting better. Are we still making the same mistakes that we made in November? Now we’re making those same mistakes in February. That’s got to be the big concern, because if that’s happening, that means us as coaches, our staff is not doing a good job of relaying information.”
One big challenge for the newcomers will be learning Ray’s motion offense. It’s predicated on giving players the freedom to make plays and on keeping defenses guessing.
“Motion offense is a complex thing, and the biggest reason being that a lot of people in high school don’t run it,” Ray said. “It’s like a situation where if a kid has run some motion offense in high school, then he’s pretty much going to matriculate into college and have some a little bit more success with motion offense right away. The thing that we can’t do is we can’t get frustrated teaching motion.”
That’s something Ray will have to remind himself when teaching: Don’t get too frustrated. On the other hand, he’s not going to tolerate players who can’t retain what they’ve learned. Sure, mistakes are going to happen, but it better not be because somebody forget what they were taught. In this sort of situation, there’s no time for that.
Ray, who has a degree in applied mathematics, used math as a metaphor.
“If you’re teaching math, we’ve taught you addition, we expect you to know addition. Now we’ve got to move to subtraction. I can’t keep going back and teaching addition. And you say, well, I’m new to it. Well yeah, OK, I get that, but now there’s a learning process and a learning curve. We have to be able to move forward every day.”
If what Ray has seen of the Bulldogs during workouts and individual drills is any indication, then the players should be able to follow the course he’s set before them. It’s obviously a whole different deal once the season starts, reality hits, and – more than likely – losses start stacking up. But Ray will deal with that when it gets here.
Right now, he likes the attitude of his players, young and old. It’s a good starting point.
“The one thing that you’re always concerned about is coaching effort, and I haven’t had to do that yet,” Ray said. “Guys have been willing workers. To me, that’s the biggest aspect you have to have. You can’t teach the game of basketball, or you can’t move forward if you’re still trying to get guys to play hard. For the most part all of our guys have come in every day with a willingness to work.”