By Mike Lehman, TTU Sports Information
COOKEVILLE, Tenn. – The 2016-17 basketball season is finally underway for the Tennessee Tech men's squad as the Golden Eagles completed their second official practice of the season Monday evening.
"They work hard," head coach Steve Payne explained when asked about the makeup of the 2016-17 squad. "They're willing to work, they're good teammates and they're easy to coach. We just have a lot to learn. Our returning guys are all in different roles. We didn't lose a lot, but what we did lose was very important to us. We've got some new guys we're going to need to step up and expect will be good players for us.
"Every team is new and every team is different, no matter how many [players] you have coming back. Every day there's another sign that we are getting better and that's going to continue to be our goal; improve every day."
Five names are new to the Tech roster in the team's newest campaign, while two others are familiar in name only, with both Micaiah Henry and Curtis Phillips yet to officially take the court in a regular season contest. Henry sat out the 2015-16 season as a redshirt freshman while Phillips, who transferred to Tech from Campbell last December, will not be eligible for competition until the first day following the last day of the fall semester.
With freshmen Miles Thomas and Colton Blevins, junior college transfers Stephaun Adams and JaCardo Hawkins and Tulane transfer Kajon Mack also due to make their first appearance in the purple and gold this season – not to mention the seven returning players with playing time in the Eblen Center – there's plenty for Golden Eagle fans to get excited about for the 2016-17 season.
"Everybody out there is a good player," Payne said when asked about how the newest Golden Eagles were adapting to their new team. "We've got a couple of freshman who are learning the pace of the game and practice and how tough the intensity level is. Everything they're going through, everyone else on the team has had to go through. We have a couple of junior college guys who are new to the concentration and focus level of Division I basketball, and both are getting better at that.
"We also have a four-year transfer in Kajon Mack who is pretty used to the Division I grind. He's probably been the fastest in terms of adapting to our practice schedule and how we do things, but each of new guys is making progress. They are all going to be important pieces to the puzzle this season."
And with all the pieces of the puzzle now flipped over, the next step for the Golden Eagle coaching staff is to assemble those pieces into the 2016-17 squad and create the beautiful picture Tech fans are so eager to view.
"We're still defining roles," Payne said about what's to come over the next few days and weeks, "and it'll be awhile before we have those cemented and defined. Right now we're just focused on being the hardest working team in the country. We want to be the most coachable team in the country. And we want to be the best teammates in the country. If we keep working at those things, and we're making strides every day, we're in for a good year."
The Golden Eagles will take its third practice of the new season on the road Tuesday evening, making a visit to Byrdstown, Tenn. and Pickett County High School. The men's squad will hold its regularly scheduled practice shortly following the conclusion of the women's practice, which begins at 6 p.m. CT.
Photo by Thomas Corhern