If it's October and the college football season is almost half over, it must be time for .... college basketball!
Eastern Washigton University is scheduled to hold its first official practice in preparation for the 2009-10 season at 5 p.m. on Friday. The Eagles, hoping to improve on last year's 12-18 record, which included a 6-10 mark and seventh-place finish in the Big Sky Conference, will then practice twice on Saturday and Sunday.
Read on for more details -- many more details, as it turns out -- and comments from third-year head coach Kirk Earlywine.
The Eagles, according to Earlywine, will open practice shorthanded, with both senior center Brandon Moore and senior guard Gary Gibson sidelined following recent surgeries.
Moore, who averaged 11.2 points and a team-high 6.8 rebounds as a junior last winter, underwent surgery to remove an extra bone from his foot last Thursday and will miss at least a month of practice. A tendon in Moore's foot, Earlywine explained, was rubbing against the bone and causing pain.
"It wasn't serious," Earlywine said of Moore's surgery, "but foot problems and big guys are not good combinations."
Gibson's situation is a bit more problematic and uncertain. The two-year lettewinner has not been able to work out in earnest since undergoing surgery on both knees knee surgery late last spring and is continuing to experience pain. Additional surgery, Earlywine said, has been ruled leaving Gibson's status up in the air.
"About all we can do is play him as much as he can tolerate the pain," Earlywine added.
In addition, first-year junior college transfer Treymane Johnson, a 6-foot-7 forward out of Los Angeles Southwest College who signed a letter of intent with Eastern last March, did not get is AA degree and will not enroll in school until January, at the earliest.
"His junior college refused to give him credit for a class he took," Earlywine said. "Even though we have a letter from that junior college stating he had completed all of the requirements for his degree, they subsequently, in the middle of August, refused to give him credit for one of his classes."
Johnson, who averaged nine points and five rebounds as a freshman at LASWC before redshirting last winter, is retaking that class this fall, Earlywine said, in hopes of enrolling at Eastern in January.
If all goes as planned, Johnson, who was also recruited by San Francisco and Arizona, will be cleared to practice with the team once he arrives on campus, but will not be eligible to play in games until next season.
Earlywine added, however, that he is looking at the possibillity of appealing Johnson's academic status with the NCAA in hopes of getting him eligible as soon as he enrolls.
"But that would be an extreme longshot," Earlywine admitted.
The Eagles return five letterwinners, including senior guard and last year's leading scorer Bennie Valentine, to the year's roster. Also back, along with Moore and Gibson, are senior forwards Matt Brunell and Mark Dunn.
For his team to challenge in the Big Sky this winter, Earlywine said Moore and Valentine need to come up big on both ends of the floor.
"I feel real confident that I know what we're going to get from Mark Dunn, Matt Brunnell and Gary Gibson," Earlywine explaiend. "But we need Brandon and Bennie to have good years, and if they do, we'll be good."
The 5-foot-7 Valentine averaged 15.1 points and 3.1 assists -- both team highs -- as a first-year JC transfer last winter, but struggled, at times, with his shooting.
"We have to score more efficiently," Earlywine said. "At times last year, we were very, very good defensively, but that last (Big Sky) game of the year (a 66-62 overtime loss to Portland State) is a prime example.
"We needed to win that game to go to the conference oturnament and we guarded the heck out of a Portland State teams that obviously had a lot of fire power and could really score. But we ended up losing, becaue we struggled so much offensively.
"That's why we're putting a priority this winter on better offensive execution and better shot selection. Simply put, we need Bennie Valentine to take better shot. We hae to have better shot selection as a team, and it start with him."
Earlywine said he likes several of his newcomers, including Geln Dean, a 5-10 freshman guard out of Seattle Roosevelt, who spent last year at Laurinburg Institute Prep in North Carolina. He also expects Laron Griffin, a 6-7 forward and former teammate of Johnson's at Los Angeles Southwest College, to have an immediate impact.
"Glen Dean, Jeff Forbes (a 5-10 freshman guard from Federal Way) and Alton Gibbs (a 6-3 junior guard from Brooklyn, N.Y., and first-year transfer from College of the Siskiyous) -- all three of those guys are good athletes with no give in them," Earlywine said. "They are all very, very competitive players who are going to not only increase out speed, quickness and athletic abilty, but our competitiveness, as well."
The Eagles still have no one on their roster taller than the 6-9 Moore, but Earlywine does not see that a major problem -- yet.
"We havae Brandon Moore, Matt Brunell and Mark Dunn, who are more than big enough to compete in the Big Sky," he said. "But we need to adress that issue in terms of goign forward once those guys leave."
"Treymayne Johnson was a step in that direction, (Rice transfer) P.J. Bolte was a step in the direction, and Laron Griffin is a step in that direction," Earlywine added. "So, I feel good about having those three gusy on the roster. It's jut unfortunate two of them won't be playing with us this year."
Bolte, a 6-6 sophomore out of Tacoma's Franklin Pierce High School, saw limited action at Rice last winter, and will redshirt this year. He will still have three years of eligibility left following the 2009-10 season.
Of the two freshmen who redshirted last winter -- 5-11 guard Kevin Winford and 6-5 forward Abebe Demisse -- Winford would seem the best situation to contribute his year.
"Kevin had a spectacular redshirt year," Earlywine said Alaska's 2008 Gatorade Player of the Year, who averaged 22 points and four assists as a senior at Bartlett High School in Anchorage. "He gained 12 pounds of muscle and he now has the ability to play hard an extended period of time, which he didn't have last year.
"Last year, he could only play three or four possession in a row at a high level of intensity before he just became fatigued. But he's gained a tremendous amount of body strength -- along with the stamina that's required to play at this level -- since then. He had a terrific year in terms of skill development, but more importantly in body and strength development, as well."
Dimisse, too, has learned how to play hard.
"But he still doesn't fully grasp how hard you have to play and how long have to play at a high leve in order to compete at the Division I level," Earlywine conceded. "He's closer to understanding it now, but he still has a way to go."
Earlywine said he expects some familiar suspects -- Portland State, Weber State and Montana -- to be among the leading contenders in the Big Sky this winter, which Idaho State another legitimate challenger, provided it guard play improves.
As for his own team's chances, Earlywine added:
"We've improved in a lot of areas, but with Brandon Moore and Gary Gibson sidelined, the first part of the season is going to be a little rough and disjointed."
Earlywine also confirmed that he has hired Shantay Legans as an assistant coach to replace Grant Leep, who left during the off season.