Even with the boss away, the first full-squad practices of the fall for FGCU ended the way Joe Dooley would want: hustle, intensity, even a little blood.
In a practice run by assistant Michael Fly with Dooley and assistants Marty Richter and Jamill Jones out of town recruiting, FGCU on Thursday showed the depth of talent that was sorely missing last season.
“The depth this year is going to help out a lot,” said 6-foot-8 redshirt sophomore forward Marc-Eddy Norelia, one of three scholarship transfers eligible this season after sitting out last year.
“In every position we have two, three guys that are pretty good. We have no idea (what rotations will be like). It’s that close. It’s up in the air day to day who is doing better.”
While Mercer threw 11 bodies at FGCU in the Atlantic Sun Conference tournament final in March to seize an NCAA tournament berth, the Eagles made due with just eight scholarship players.
This season, though, even with the graduation of all-purpose forward Chase Fieler, transfers of two players and absences of two more for medical reasons, FGCU may still have as many as 11 versatile scholarship players in the rotation.
“There’s so much talent that even if guys don’t start they’re going to get so much playing time,” said 6-11 sophomore Eric Moeller, a junior college transfer. “The more you rotate guys in the less tired guys get. That’s the good thing about how deep we are this year.”
Beyond A-Sun first-team senior guards Brett Comer and Bernard Thompson, little seems certain about FGCU’s potential lineup.
Six-foot-6 redshirt senior wing Jamail Jones finished last season playing his best ball of the year. But 6-4 redshirt junior Julian DeBose, a transfer from Rice, will be helped by similar multi-position versatility and could become a feature player.
Redshirt senior center Nate Hicks, on schedule for a full recovery by November following an ACL tear in March’s first-round NIT loss at Florida State, also returns to the frontcourt rotation.
But Norelia, Moeller and 6-9 UNLV sophomore transfer Demetris Morant, granted eligibility this season without having to sit out a year, likely will be prominent in a heavily revamped frontcourt.
“We do have a lot of switchable guys,” Jones said. “We have people who can slide up and down the lineup. I’m excited to see how it unfolds.”
Gone from the frontcourt are Fieler, senior forward Filip Cvjeticanin, who is out for the season after back surgery, and center Eric McKnight, who transferred to Long Beach State.
In the backcourt, Auburn transfer Brian Greene Jr., a powerfully built redshirt sophomore, and freshman Christian Terrell will take the place of Dajuan Graf, now at UNC-Central, in reserve roles.
Redshirt freshman forward Logan Hovey also continues to regain his form after missing all of last season to have a rod put into his shin.
What’s unchanged from last season, though, is the first thing Dooley expects from his players – the result of which could be seen in a fresh, half-inch long gash over Moeller’s right eye.
“Go hard. For sure. Go hard,” Moeller said of the first thing demanded by Dooley. “He never gets mad at us for taking an open shot and missing. But he’ll get on us if we’re not putting in effort. And he can always tell, and we can always tell. So we try to pick it up whenever we can.”
It was during FGCU’s first full-squad practice last Tuesday that redshirt senior Marcus Blake, dubbed the Tasmanian devil by Dooley for his effort and occasional wildness, gashed Moeller with an elbow.
“The first injury of the year from Marcus,” Moeller, who turned down stitches for glue, said with a laugh. “Many more to come from him, I hear.”
“It was a 50/50 ball,” said a happily unapologetic Blake, one of two walk-ons to play extensively last season. “Whoever is more aggressive usually gets the ball. He got wounded and didn’t get the ball.”
With Dooley gone Thursday, Fly ran practice without any apparent drop-off.
“We did really well for coach Dooley not being here,” Moeller said. “We try to go hard no matter what.”
HICKS ON TRACK
Hicks, a 6-10, 217-pound former transfer from Georgia Tech, said he’s had no setbacks following surgery in March to repair a torn ACL and will begin limited practice with the team in a couple weeks.
“We’re almost there,” he said. “I just haven’t gotten full clearance yet.”
Hicks averaged 4.0 points, 4.3 rebounds and 15.5 minutes a game last year while starting 11 of 35 of games. His 42 blocks led the team. But he knows FGCU’s frontcourt will be crowded this season.
“We’ve got a ton of talent, but it just makes you work that much harder,” Hicks said. “You’ve got to earn that playing time. It’s a good problem to have.”
Hovey’s prolonged recovery from surgery to have a vertical rod put in his leg running from his knee to his ankle is not uncommon for his injury, early signs of a horizontal stress fracture in his tibia.
Known in orthopedics as the “dreaded black line,” the injury can be slow to recover with rest and sometimes requires insertion of a stabilizing rod, as was the case for Hovey nearly 12 months ago.
“I’ve been feeling a lot better,” said Hovey, who has battled soreness in the leg throughout the recovery. “I’ve been able to do all of our workouts and everything. I’m able to do a lot more than I could this time last month. I’m definitely seeing improvement.”
Muscular, athletic and multi-skilled, the 6-7, 210-pound Hovey received rave reviews from FGCU coaches during summer workouts in 2013. But the Orlando-Hagerty High product was shut down for several months once signs of a stress fracture appeared.
When it didn’t heal, surgery was chosen, leaving FGCU and Hovey uncertain of his future.
“I feel I’m getting up to speed pretty well. I feel like I will be back to playing how I was,” Hovey said. “I’m just playing hard right now just to get back out there.”
The loss of freshman guard Zach Johnson for the season for an undisclosed and seemingly serious health issue has his teammates crossing their fingers.
“I’m really close with Zach. I was his host on his visit,” said Jones. “I’m obviously there for him whenever he needs to talk. It’s hard. It’s hard for him. I just keep him in my prayers.”
The 6-2, 190-pounder from Miami-Norland has been praised by Dooley for his toughness and physicality and may have figured prominently in FGCU’s rotation even as a freshman.
“He was the only true backup point guard that we have,” Jones said.
The 6-3, 205-pound Greene, a “combo” guard, and the 6-4, 180-pound Terrell, who needs to continue bulking up but has the athleticism to play any of three perimeter spots, were already going to share reserve backcourt roles with Johnson.
“We’re going to miss Zach and his abilities,” said Greene, a physical presence in his own right. “We’ve got a lot of depth at guard. I feel like we can compete with anybody in the country. It’s going to be a really fun year.”
Reserve guard Kevin Boyle, who played important spot minutes as a junior walk-on last season, opted not to return to the team this season to concentrate on academics, FGCU said.
“I’d like to thank Kevin for all his contributions,” Dooley said.
“I had an incredible experience playing alongside teammates and friends,” Boyle said.
FGCU’s four other walk-ons, Blake, redshirt-sophomore forward Nick Pellar and sophomore guards Armand Shoon and TeJai Allen, returned this season, giving FGCU a roster of 17.
For all Blake’s effort and even critical contributions last season on a depth-deprived roster, the 6-7, 196-round forward from Miami can’t escape his dangerous reputation with teammates.
“Oh yeah, Blake, man,” said Greene, laughing at Moeller’s injury on the first day of full-squad workouts. “You’ve got to watch out for Blake. You never know what he’s going to do because he doesn’t know what he’s going to do.”
Saturday, Oct. 4 is the first day men’s basketball teams can begin full weeks of full-squad practice. From last week until Oct. 3, teams are restricted to two hours a week of full squads together on the floor.
Prior to last week, teams were permitted only four players on the floor together at one time, with a maximum of two hours per week for each player.
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FGCU men’s basketball roster
Jersey #, player, Yr, Position, Ht, Wt, hometown/prior team
0 Brett Comer Sr G 6-3 192 Winter Park
1 Nate Hicks R-Sr F/C 6-10 217 Panama City Beach/Georgia Tech
2 Bernard Thompson Sr G 6-3 175 Conyers, Ga.
3 Julian DeBose R-Jr G 6-4 196 Washington, D.C./Rice
4 *Armand Shoon So G 6-3 180 Miami
5 Jamail Jones R-Sr G 6-6 215 Atlanta/Marquette
10 Logan Hovey R-Fr F 6-7 210 Orlando
11 *Nick Pellar R-So F 6-6 205 Munster, Ind./Auburn
12 #Zach Johnson Fr G 6-2 190 Miami
14 Brian Greene Jr. R-So G 6-3 205 Chicago/Auburn
15 #Filip Cvjeticanin Sr F 6-9 218 Croatia
21 Demetris Morant R-So F 6-9 210 Miami/UNLV
23 *TeJai Allen So G 6-4 198 Jacksonville
24 *Marcus Blake R-Sr F 6-7 196 Miami
25 Marc-Eddy Norelia R-So F 6-8 225 Orlando/Tulane
35 Christian Terrell Fr G 6-4 180 Jacksonville
42 Eric Moeller So F 6-11 230 St. Louis/Central Florida (JUCO)/Missouri
# redshirting in 2014-2015