ATHENS, Ohio -- The Ohio men's basketball team conducted its first official practice of the 2017-18 season on Sunday (Oct. 1) afternoon at the Convocation Center.
The Bobcats' roster has undergone plenty of change since Ohio suffered a tough 68-66 loss to Kent State in the 2016 Mid-American Conference Tournament Semifinal on March 10 at Quicken Loans Arena in Cleveland.
Gone from last year's 20-win squad are forwards Antonio Campbell and Kenny Kaminski (graduated) and guard Jaaron Simmons (transferred). Campbell earned MAC Player of the Year honors in 2016 and was on pace for another huge season in '17 before suffering a foot injury that ended his collegiate career. He ended his time as a Bobcat ranking 22nd in program history with 1,257 points and ranking in the top 10 in both rebounds (801; 10th) and blocks (119; 9th). Kaminski finished his Bobcat career ranking ninth in program history with 164 three-point field goals made. Simmons distributed 475 assists in his two years in Athens, which ranks fourth in program history.
Ohio's 2017-18 roster features four freshmen who will try to help the Bobcats fill those voids -- guards Zach Butler (Spartanburg, S.C.) and Teyvion Kirk (Joliet, Ill.) and forwards A.J. Gareri (Akron, Ohio) and Ben Vander Plas (Ripon, Wis.). Forward Kevin Mickle (Brooklyn, N.Y.) also joins Ohio as a graduate transfer from Florida Gulf Coast who is immediately eligible to play.
Much of the curiosity of the onlookers at Sunday's practice centered on how the new pieces would fit into the puzzle for Ohio.
"What I've seen is we still have work to do," said sophomore forward Jason Carter (Johnstown, Ohio) after practice. "We're still trasitioning with trying to figure out who is going to be at the point and whatnot. I definitely feel comfortable with our old guys and our new guys. We're just trying to learn each other and how each other plays. They're doing great. They're listening to coach. They're real attentive to everything, and they're wanting to work. I think we'll be, in no time, ready to go and have positions set."
For fourth-year head coach Saul Phllips, the objectives he wants to see his team achieve have not changed, even if some of the faces have.
"The priority level, regardless of what my group is, is that I'm always trying to get them to take care of the ball a little bit better, get them to work together as a group of five defensively" said Phillips. "But, this group in particular, I would guess, generating offense in a different way than some are used to. That comes in a lot of different ways, but it will be evolving. I'd imagine it evolves, in some sense, all year. I don't think we'll be done at any point. In fact, I don't think that you're ever done, or else you've just filled your growth potential as a team, and that's no fun. Getting guys used to playing with each other. Getting guys used to my communication so that I can talk to them in game and they know what I'm talking about when all heck is breaking loose around them."
Carter certainly figures to be a huge part of Phillips' plan to generate offense. He garnered All-MAC Freshman Team selection and finished in second in MAC Freshman of the Year voting last season after averaging 12.7 points and 8.0 rebounds in league play.
Another big who could have a big impact on Ohio's success is forward Doug Taylor (Columbus, Ohio), who dedicated himself to conditioning his body for a strong junior campaign.
"I feel good, more athletic," said Taylor. "I did a lot of extra work with our strength & conditioning coach, Zach (Perkins). It should be really effective in the season."
How long it takes the Bobcats to mesh and reach their potential remains to be seen. But, an important first step in that journey was taken on Sunday at the Convo.