BOZEMAN — Montana State men's basketball officially heads into its second season under the guidance of head coach Danny Sprinkle on Wednesday, with preseason practices starting across NCAA Division I basketball.
Though most of the players on the roster have been in Bozeman since July and MSU has been practicing as a team, Wednesday signifies the ramp-up for programs in preparation for the 2020-21 season.
"It goes from eight hours to 20 hours a week," Sprinkle said of the amount of time players will be able to work out in Brick Breeden Fieldhouse. "We basically still have to take two days off a week up until the first game, then it's only one day a week. With the 20 hours, it allows us to watch a lot more film, more access to our players, even if it's just to go shoot in the gym. We probably won't be using all 20 hours, but it's nice to know we'll be able to use the 20 if we need them."
Sprinkle said MSU's first month to six weeks with the team focused primarily on individual workouts and getting the team back into game shape. Many members of the team had long layoffs off the basketball court so work done early was to avoid injuries. Recently, the Bobcats have been able to start piecing together things in practice that'll become important as the schedule gets closer.
"The last 2-3 weeks we've been able to get more out of practice than a lot of schools which we're fortunate," Sprinkle said. "We've been able to implement some things offensively and defensively, but the main thing we've tried to implement was mostly some of our defensive principles."
MSU returns six players that made an impact during the 2019-20 season for the Bobcats.
Jubrile Belo returns following his first year at MSU that earned him all-Big Sky third team and Newcomer of the Year accolades. He averaged 13.1 points and 6.4 rebounds per game, while he finished the year with three straight double-doubles.
Devin Kirby and Amin Adamu are both seniors, with Kirby serving as a starter the previous two seasons and Adamu averaging nearly 12 points per game in 29 contests. Caleb Bellach, Borja Fernandez and Finn Fleute each enter their second seasons after contributing as freshmen a year ago.
Xavier Bishop and Abdul Mohamed each provide veteran presences as seniors with previous Division I experience when they make their debuts as Bobcats.
Bishop, who sat out the season as a redshirt at Montana State last year, averaged over 15 points per game as a junior at Kansas City during the 2018-19 season. Mohamed spent the past two years with a program in North Texas, which last spring won the Conference USA regular-season title.
Seven others will be entering their first seasons at the Division I level.
Juniors Mike Hood and Bilal Shabazz each played at the junior college level for two years, and Nick Gazelas joined MSU as a sophomore. Carter Ash, Jesse Owens, Tyler Patterson and Kellen Tynes each enter their freshmen seasons at MSU this winter.
With the roster of 15 that features a mix of newcomers, Sprinkle said the goal over the next couple of weeks is implementing the Bobcats' system and showing what type of effort is expected on the court.
"Trying to get these guys to play together, to engulf the new guys more into our culture from a defensive standpoint and sharing the basketball," Sprinkle said of MSU's focus during preseason practices. "We have more guys that can score it this year, but we've got to be a better passing team and take pride in getting a teammate a shot. Still doing those little things – boxing out every time, diving on the floor for loose balls – all kind of the stats that don't get statted that kind of win games."
The Bobcats will have 42 days to conduct a maximum of 30 practices before the Division I basketball start date of Nov. 25.
"I think it's another step for them," Sprinkle said. "Like they know it's coming, but they don't know, especially the new guys. We've told them the intensity and everything is going to ramp up to a whole other level and if they think it's been intense the last six weeks, they're going to get their eyes opened on Wednesday. From here on out, it's go time now."