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Giacoletti preaches ‘fresh start’ for new-look team

Story by Austin Cannon

Photos by Nick Briscoe

mediaday1-w2000-h2000During the press conference at men’s basketball’s annual media day on Tuesday, first-year Drake head coach Ray Giacoletti spoke of a fresh start for his players.

“Our staff didn’t go back and watch any tape from last year. We told the guys, ‘You’re going to get a fresh start and whatever the old staff (thought) or people’s impression, everybody’s got a clean slate,’” Giacoletti said.

One of the first issues brought up was what last year’s 15-17 team lost, mainly leading scorer Ben Simons and leading rebounder Jordan Clarke to graduation, and  last year’s key freshmen Micah Mason and Joey King tranferred.

Giacoletti wasn’t going to worry about what he didn’t have.

“We don’t have them. They aren’t here so I really don’t know what it was like to be with them,” Giacoletti said.

He also spoke about how, with time, Drake could become a successful mid-major, with basketball success on par with that of its academics.

“You can do both. There’s enough people out there that have proved it,” Giacoletti. “That’s something Drake needs to be, in the same sentence with Butler, Davidson and Gonzaga. That would be our hope and vision.”

Giacoletti noted two players who have stepped up as leaders in redshirt junior guard Karl Madison and fifth-year senior center Seth VanDeest.

Madison sat out the entire 2012-2013 season with a knee injury and is eager to get back onto the court.

“I can’t wait to play,” madison said. “Sitting last year really hurt. I wanted to help the team. I wanted to play.”

mediaday2-w2000-h2000Senior guard Richard Carter praised Madison’s hard work after his injury.

“He brings it every day. No days off for him. He’s got a lot to prove, chip on his shoulder,” Carter said.

Madison exemplifies what Giacoletti has emphasized during the first week of practice: communication.

“He brings great energy, and he’s our most vocal guy we have,” Giacoletti said.

VanDeest, even in a limited capacity while recovering from a  knee injury, has made an impact with his leadership.

“Being a guy who’s been here for going on my fifth year now, I need to step into that leadership role, lead by example, lead vocally and help the younger guys,” VanDeest said.

As the Bulldog’s leading returning scorer with 9.5 points per game, VanDeest’s knee rehab is moving at a pace where he can return healthy in time for the season.

“We’re going to bring him along to where he, hopefully, could be at his strongest throughout the meat of the season,” Giacoletti said. “He’s done an amazing job to continue to be focused, continue to be driven. He would be very deserving of being healthy his senior year.”

Giacoletti also complimented the practice of Gary Ricks Jr., who averaged 3.2 points and 14.2 minutes per game last year, after transferring from Indian Hills Community College.

“He’s shot the ball well, he’s trying to make a difference defensively, trying to be more aggressive,” Giacoletti said. “He’s been about as consistent in the first seven days of practice as anybody has.”

“A gift from the heavens,” as Giacoletti called it, came to the Bulldogs late in the summer in the form of 6-foot-11, 240-pound Jacob Jensen.

The freshman center from Denmark brings much-needed size.

“He’s got good hands, a good feel,” Giacoletti said. “Big guys, if they have good work ethic and good hands, they’ve got a chance ,and he’s got both of those.”

Giacoletti, an assistant last year at Gonzaga, focused on two things: defense and rebounding.

“Obviously, you need to score the basketball, but your first line of offense needs to come from the defense getting stops. You get stops or create turnovers,” Giacoletti said.

“(It) gives yourself easy opportunities in transition to get easy baskets. It’s so hard today to manufacture point in a half-court set. You got to find ways to where you don’t have to manufacture points, and that’s done by defense. It’s done by rebounding.”

While the bounce of the ball can’t always be determined, effort can be controlled, as Ricks pointed out.

“You can’t always control if you’re going to make shots that day but what you can control is your effort on defense and rebounding, so we’ve been working a lot on that,” Ricks said. “If we can get that down, we’ll be pretty good this year.”

Defense and rebounding aren’t the only points of emphasis. There are some new offensive wrinkles as well.

“Last year, we didn’t do a ton of pick and roll. We do a lot of pick and roll (now), so it’s different like that,” Carter said.

Even though the new coach and staff have only been in place for around six months, the transition has been smooth.

“It’s been definitely a learning process trying to pick up their schemes and things like that, but everyone has a great attitude coming to work every day, rying to improve,” VanDeest said.

As for the season’s expectations, the Bulldogs want to improve, day by day.

“We’re just trying to be the best we can be as a team,” Carter said.

Drake opens the season Nov. 9 at Illinois-Chicago.

The Bulldogs open the home portion of their schedule versus Iowa Wesleyan on Nov. 12 at 7:05 p.m.

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