Thursday, November 10, 2011

'Early' Games To Give Rider Men Good Test

It is a tough-enough home opener for the Rider men's basketball team, Tuesday's game against regional non-league rival Drexel, a team that won 21 games a year ago and is once again expected to be one of the better teams in the Colonial Athletic Association.

And, then, there is the 6 a.m. starting time as Rider serves as the host team for that time block's portion of ESPN's season-tip off's 24-hour basketball marathon.

But that only begins to hint at the early season challenges faced by the Broncs who, due to some early season injuries, are operating with only eight scholarship players right now.

Before the team even has to start worrying about how much coffee to drink to perk up the senses for basketball before the sun rises on Tuesday, there's the certain matter of two other games this weekend.

The Broncs, later today (Thursday) hit the road for a two-game trip to Pittsburgh to face Robert Morris Friday at 7 p.m. and, then, Pitt Sunday night at 6 p.m.

Nothing like a nice tune-up for Tuesday's eye-opener ... Pitt is widely acknowledged as a Top 10-team nationally.

"I thought that would have been an afternoon game," said Rider coach Tommy Dempsey.

Instead, to accomodate television (the game will be televised on ESPN3), it was recently scheduled for its 6 p.m. starting time.

The Broncs will get on a bus immediately following that game for a 330-mile/6-hour bus ride from Pittsburgh back to their Lawrenceville, N.J., campus.

"We'll probably get home about 2 a.m. Monday morning," noted Dempsey.

That gives the team all of about 28 hours before Tuesday morning's tip-off, time in which team players and coaches will be concerned with Monday classes, a Monday afternoon practice and a drastically altered pre-game schedule in an attempt to accomodate rest and proper nutrition before the 6 a.m. Tuesday contest with Drexel.

On top of everything else, the contest is Drexel's first of the year, meaning the Dragons will have the emotional charge of their season-opener.

"I'm a coffee drinker, and I'll be having some Tuesday morning ... but I'm not the one who has to be awake for the game," said Dempsey. "We have to be sure the players are ready.

"But the school is really embracing the game. There will be a lot of activities on our campus surrounding the game. Between those emotions, playing a regional rival and having a national TV audience watching, I'm sure our guys will get a lift from all of that."

Still, having to play 28 hours after getting back from a meeting with a physical, elite Pitt opponent ....

"It will be a challenge, and I don't have a magic formula for how to proceed," said Dempsey. "We'll just try to do what we think is best."

Dempsey will encourage his team to get as much rest upon its return from Pitt, attend classes on Monday and, then, will have a light walk-through late Monday afternoon. After that the team will have a big meal around 8 p.m. Monday night and, then, will stay off campus as it tries to get a little more sleep for Tuesday morning's game.

"We'll try to get them to bed at 10 p.m. (Monday), and up at 4 a.m. on Tuesday to let them have something real light ... oatmeal, maybe some eggs ... prior to the game," said Dempsey.

The Broncs are no strangers to early mornings on the court. Dempsey had his players arrange class schedules to facilitate twice-weekly 7 a.m. practices twice a week.

"But practicing at 7 a.m. isn't like playing a game at 6 a.m.," admitted the Rider coach

His team will be further hampered by some nagging preseason injuries, limiting it to eight scholarship players for the two-game trip to the Pittsburgh area. The only starter who won't play there, though, is point guard Jonathan Thompson, who is finishing a five-game suspension imnpossed late last season. Thompson will be able to play in Tuesday's morning contest with Drexel.

"We know it's a big thing for our university to get the national television exposure," said Dempsey. "And you look at the time slot. A lot of people are up getting ready for the day that early and turn on ESPN to watch SportsCenter. Instead, our game will be on. We'll get a lot of people watching who might not normally watch. If it's a good, exciting game maybe they'll keep watching. It's great publicity for our school."

But, it's a challenge that goes beyond just having to get up early for a game.

"Basically, we're on the road for two games and, then, home for the morning game ... three games in about four-and-a-half days," said Dempsey. "I told our guys that if we're ever going to win a MAAC tournament, we have to play three days in a row, so this is good preparation for us if we get into that post-season situation."

And, it might happen. Rider was picked to finish fourth in the coaches' preseason poll and has a strong returning cast from a year ago.

Just how good will Rider be? It's upcoming season-opening three games might tell plenty.

"These early games will test our team's toughness, our character and our resolve," said Dempsey. "I'll have a pretty good idea about our team very early ... by about 8:30 a.m. on Tuesday."

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