The best time of the year is officially here. College basketball teams have started preseason practices.
While men's team can't get on the court for official workouts until October 15, women's teams are already in full swing in terms of practicing.
Due to new NCAA legislation women's teams could begin practicing 40 days before their first game, but can only be on the court 30 of those 40 days.
It meant that women's teams were eligible to tip it off on the practice courts this past Monday (Oct. 4). Some MAAC programs were on the court that day, others waited a day or two so that there would be fewer days off during the preseason.
We asked Brian Giorgis, whose Marist team has dominated the MAAC in recent seasons, for his impressions of the early start of practices.
"For us we're still doing things in a sense of half practicing and half preseason (conditioning) drills," said Giorgis. "The way we look at it is that starting on Oct. 15 has always been good to us. But this (the early start) basically gives us time to go at things more slowly on the court.
"Right now we're spending a lot more time in the class room. On the floor we're going over things trying to get the kids to understand the nuances of our base offense and man defense. And, we still have conditioning drills."
Giorgis, for the first time, said he has incorporated pens and pencils as part of his players' required workout apparatus.
"I've never given written tests before, but we're doing that now," he said. "I'm not concerned about whether they pass or fail. The goal isn't to find out what they know but to find out what the kids aren't understanding and, then, to make sure they do understand what we're doing. A lot of it is them understanding the terminology and understanding why we do things at certain times. So, part of helping them understand is classroom stuff, and part of it is a lot more time with film."
Marist goes into the season without 6-foot-0 forward Rachele Fitz, arguably the MAAC's most-dominant player in the league's history, who was the conference's Rookie of the Year as a freshman and its Player of the Year for the last three seasons.
But, in case you were wondering, the Red Foxes aren't likely to fall from its traditional perch atop the conference standings. Rest assured that they'll be the preseason pick to win the league title again this year when the coaches' preseason poll is revealed at the MAAC's media day on Oct. 26.
And, why not? Marist returns senior guard Erica Allenspach and junior guard Corielle Yarde, and both are expected to contend for the conference's Player of the Year honors.
And while the program lost Fitz, it didn't lose much else.
"What I have I have a lot of," said Giorgis, who clearly was referring to having arguably the best group of perimeter performers in the conference. "The biggest challenge owill be to have the right people play at the right times in the right situations. We'll have a lot of different kids who bring different things to the table. And, probably for the first time I really don't have a kid I'd be afraid to have in there with two minutes left to go with the game on the line."
In addition to Yard and Allenspach, Marist also returns guards 5-4 junior Kristine Best and 5-5 senior Elise Caron, and both have been key performers over the past two years. Up front key returnees include 6-4 sophomore center Kate Oliver and 6-2 junior forward Brandy Gang.
And, if that's not enough Giorgis also believes he has an emerging sophomore standout in guard Kelsey Beynnon and a strong trio of freshmen.
"Kelsey reminds me a lot of Corielle Yarde from a year ago in terms that Corielle really didn't get it as a freshman but things clicked and she had a terrific sophomore season," said Giorgis. "Kelsey, who is a legitimate 6-2 guard, could pose a lot of problems for our opponents."
Giorgis is also effusive in his praise for 5-10 freshman guards Casey Dulin and Leanne Ockenden and 6-0 freshman forward Emma O'Connor.
"Casey is real athletic with a lot of ability, Emma is one of the most-athletic players we've ever had ... a poor man's Fifi Camera (a former Marist standout and the MAAC's 2005-06 Player of the Year) and Leanne might be the best shooter we have in the program.
"Honestly, you never know, though."
Still, Giorgis and his coaching peers around the league, seems to appreciate getting an earlier than usual look at their respective teams. It's just that Giorgis, as usual, probably likes what he sees more than anyone else.