Practice Report: University Of Rhode Island

By David Scott - November 13, 2007


KINGSTON, RI -- It's on his computer, accessible at the click of a mouse -- downloaded and deposited in the hard drive of his basketball mind.

Of course, this being a coach's son, it's not the festive URI take-out of No. 1-seed Xavier in the semis of last March's Atlantic 10 Tournament that Jimmy Baron chose to store on his Dell.

Instead, the jump-shooting junior chooses to relive a more painful hoops memory.

MORE AFTER JUMP - - - >

It's this video (or a reasonable facsimile of it) that Baron admits to watching "from time to time":

"When I get too. . . How do I explain it? . . . When I get too 'happy,'" says Baron. "I use the video to bring myself back down."

It's little things like that - and the big things like a beefy front court, a host of slashers and a dash of shooters - which make Jim Baron's seventh edition of Ram basketball his most potent yet.

"We've got a good nucleus but we've got a lot of newcomers," said the ever-cautious Baron after a Veteran's Day practice, where his team prepared for intrastate rival, Brown on Wednesday. "We're just going to continue to build chemistry and build rotations. We've got to continue to gain confidence and consistency."

That process could very well have started last year in the days and hours leading up to the court storming that Jimmy Baron now uses to help keep him, and in turn his teammates, grounded.

"I think the biggest thing that we've used from (winning two games to advance to the A-10 Finals) is that we were extremely focused for those games. I'm talking about the meetings the night before games, that kind of thing. We were as focused as we'd ever been," said Jimmy, the team's second-leading scorer and the A-10's top 3-pointer bombardier from last season. "That's something that we've carried into this season. That started during the A-10 Tournament and we saw what it did for us.

"We learned a lot and saw how good we could be," he said.

The Rams finished 19-14 after a bit of a stumble down the regular season's stretch, dropping three straight, and then regained some form in the A-10s with an upset of No. 1 seed Xavier (and the downing of Fordham on late game heroics from Baron).

Losing just one starter from that team (Darrell Harris), the Rams return a cohesive core of three seniors (banger Joe Mbang, most-improved Parfait Bitee and the unlimited potential of A-10 first-teamer Will Daniels) and three juniors (sweet-shooting Baron, 6-8, 235-pound Kahiem Seawright and the 6-9, 280 pound Giant Jamaican, junior college transfer Jason Francis).

"It's the best group we've had since I've been here as far as off the court," said Bitee. "It's like a big family, everybody gets along and we all care about each other."

Bitee, too, saw what the three-game run in the A-10s last season has done for this year's team.

"We could've made a big impact that day (in the title game), but we came up short," said Bitee. "We didn't play well against the 1-3-1, we had 21 turnovers and we still had a chance to win that game.
We learned a lot form that loss. We saw what we can do when we come together and that was a great experience."

Even so, Jimmy Baron will keep on looking at those couple of minutes of GW's celebration.

"It's still in my mind," he said.

Not to mention on his computer.


. . . The Rams have also been wearing t-shirts with the date "3-10-07" on the front and "Unfinished Business" on the back. Jimmy Baron said the first run of t-shirts (initiated by Seawright and Director of Basketball Operations Randy Brooks) shrunk quite a bit. "They were like half-shirts after a couple of weeks," he said. A new batch of tees, we're told, has arrived, so expect the theme to carry through the season.

. . . Jim Baron summed up one of the key challenges of utilizing his up-tempo style (which produced 76.1 points per game last season, but also allowed 76.0): "It's very challenging. We have to stay after it defensively and keep working at it. Sometimes you can slip because you're so caught up in the offesne and the transition."

But, as his son points out, "As hard as it is for us. I've got to figure it's that much harder for the teams we're playing," said the younger Baron, who has a definite future in either coaching or broadcasting or both.

. . . The Rams were using one walk-on during Monday's practice (No. 10) and while we effort his name and vitals, we have decided to call him "Mugsy II: The Sequel." Those of you who were with us for our UConn "Practice Report" in late October will recall that Jim Calhoun had a similarly diminutive walk-on he was calling "Mugsy." In keeping with this theme, if we ever run into an unidentified seven-foot walk-on, we'll call him "Manute."

Of course those 7-foot walk-ons aren't exactly a common breed.

. . . UConn transfer Ben Eaves is sitting out this season for Baron's Boys, but his participation in Ram practices will certainly benefit both him and the club. Eaves, at 6-7, 225, will be able to step in nicely next year as a cross between Mbang and Daniels.

. . . Freshman point guard Marquis Jones suffered an injury to his non-shooting hand (left) pinkie finger in the opener and was wearing a brace over it throughout practice. The non-intrusive wrap hardly affected the S. Plainfield, NJ product as he made a few outstanding passes and could very well give the Rams a true back-up to Bitee at the point.

. . . Odd Stat 'O The Day: By the time January starts up, everyone on the Ram roster will be at least 20 years old, except for freshman Hakim McCullar, who turned 18 in June.

. . . Sitting out to focus on his academics is sophomore Delroy James (brother of Duquesne's Shawn James). Delroy was ineligible last year but with a slated second semester term this year, the looooong Brooklyn forward (6-7, 215) will be the Rams' equivalent of an All-Star Break addition.

. . . Baron is very hands on during his practice and on Monday he drilled his team extensively against the 1-3-1 defense Brown is known for running. His lone blow-up - if it could even be called that - was when Will Daniels aggravated the coach a bit during one segment of practice. "CONCENTRATE!" Baron yelled. After a brief back and forth with his senior, Baron whistled everyone to the baseline for sprints.

End of conversation. Baron - 1; Daniels - 0 and practice continued without further problem.

. . . They tell you in JOURN 101 not to ever drink the Kool-Aid of the subjects you are covering. I kind of broke that rule on Monday when I agreed to drink the Gatorade from the courtside jug. Riptide Rush I believe, and quite tasty.

. . . Sophomores Keith Cothran and Lamonte Ulmer both looked ready to build on their respectable freshmen campaigns. Both came off the bench in Rhody's opening win against FAU with Ulmer logging 26 minutes and Cothran on-court for 27. The starting five was Bitee, Baron, Daniels, Seawright and Francis.

. . . Francis, 22-years-old and a product of Southeastern Illinois College, is an absolute monster. Any young man who can make 6-7, 235 pound teammate, Joe Mbang seem undersized has got to be seen to be appreciated.

"Jason makes Joe look a lot smaller, absolutley," laughed the 22-year-old Bitee, a Cameroon native. "He's a really good guy. It's just funny, he doesn't complain about anything. He'll do the hardest job - running, rebounding, he doesn' t care about scoring. But he gets the job done. That's really big for us, It's really important because once Jason screens somebody, you're going to get open. At practice I don't want to play against him to tell you the truth."

Said Jimmy Baron: "I have run right past him for a couple of screens and I found my man nowhere to be found after I came around him. He's terrific. I make sure I take him out to eat every now and then."

Which could be pricey. "We go to an all you can eat place," said Baron, the communications major who minors in oceanography.

. . . Freshman near-7-footer, Will Martell out of Fair Haven, N.J. has some very freshman tendencies but he also a nice 6-11 frame filled out by a well-proportioned 230 pounds. He's not likely to contribute big minutes this season, but he does have intriguing possibilities for Baron.

Martell's off-court story is quite compelling as well. His mother, Maria Housden, is an author who has written two extraordinary books surrounding the death of her 3-year-old daughter, Hannah from kidney cancer.

There's no way to do the story justice in the midst of a basketball column, but maybe this quote from Martell's mom will lead you to find out more about their situation and their remarkably sad, yet uplifting story.

"The longing after (a child's death) for that hand, for that kiss, for that voice ... that is who you are. ... This longing to feel your child again is a hunger that will never go away." -- Maria Housden, in the movie "Space Between Breaths."

. . . New Rhody Athletic Director Thorr Bjorn is settling into his first season on the job (hired in July from A-10 rival, UMass, where he was a senior associate AD). Bjorn was busy answering emails and sending out handwritten notes when we poked our head into his office on Monday afternoon. "It's going great," said Bjorn, who graduated from UMass in 1990. "We're all excited for basketball season and the community is rally getting into it. The job has been tremendous and there are so many good people here."

Bjorn is one of the new generation of ADs, brought up in the Internet age and fully aware of what that medium - and all its incarnations - can mean for a program's long-term future. But he also knows the importance of good old-fashioned note-writing. And who was the top card on the fresh stack of handwritten messages at the corner of Bjorn's desk on this day?

Ex-Ram and current (all-underrated) NBAer Cuttino Mobley.

When people around Ram Nation say that Bjorn "Gets it," this is an example of what they're talking about.

. . . Baron and his assistant, the Ramblin' Blogger, Pat Skerry took an off-season trip out to Phoenix to spend some time with the Suns and Coach Mike D'Anotni.

"We watched them practice, it was really good," said Baron. "I've always looked to do things like that in past summers. I've been to Louisville, Duke, Connecticut. We just wanted to see how they do it. Obviously they have they have a guy like Steve Nash and great athleticsm all around him. But they're all so unselfish. That's the biggest thing and they say that's just the culture at Pheonix - they just really share the basketball."

. . . The Rams enter a tough stretch of the young season when they play pesky Brown on Wednesday in Providence and then travel to Daytona Beach for the continuation of the Glenn Wilkes Classic with games on Friday, Saturday and Sunday (South Florida, Stetson and UAB) and then a Thanksgiving Eve/afternoon tilt at Boston College followed by a home joust with Toledo (Nov. 24).

Rhody also hosts Providence (Dec. 4) goes to Syracuse (Dec. 8) and hosts Hofstra on Dec. 22. They close out the calendar year at the Flint Hills Resources/Islander Invitational in Corpus Christi, TX against Eastern Michigan and either Georgia Southern or Texas A&M-C.C.

. . . That does it from Rhody practice at the Ryan Center. It was only one practice and the Rams have only played one semi-meaningful game, but if you forced us to make a call right now, we'd say that Baron's Bunch will be Bracket-Bound come March and could very well spend some time in the Top 25 this season.

Posted by David Scott at 03:18 AM on November 13, 2007
Comments (2)

Comments

Bjorn Bjorn Bjorn. Nice guy but can he swim. Hope all is wel Dave!!!

Great report! It's tough to find a lot of Rhody insider info on the web but winning should help that, right?

I was a Freshman in 1999, one year removed from Odom and Rhody's last NCAA tourney bid. Last year was close but this year's team is the best I've seen so far.

Big test at BC tomorrow...

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