SHERIDAN — While plenty are still outside watching football for the next couple weeks, basketball season heats up at the Golden Dome Friday night.
There have been plenty of distractions as the Sheridan College Generals started practice this month, ones perhaps telling of the hype that follows the men’s basketball team into their 2013-14 season.
But these distractions are of the good variety.
Freshman transfer Kaileb Rodriguez and returning sophomores Fred Dure and Iakeem Alston have all made verbal commitments to Division 1 programs before the Generals play their first exhibition game.
Sheridan College hosts Medicine Hat University out of Canada at 6 p.m. Friday at the Bruce Hoffman Golden Dome, in a game that head coach Steve Smiley says should carry with it a “regular season feel.”
The Generals under Smiley are no stranger to attracting next-level talent, but things got started a little earlier this year.
“It’s obviously a great thing,” Smiley said of the preseason activity. “Because the ultimate goal is for them to do a good job in the classroom and on the court and to realize that dream. It’s been busy, but it’s good for them because they’re good players that have been good in the classroom, too.”
It’s not out of the ordinary for players to find their next school this soon, as the recruiting process usually starts when players are freshmen, when schools watch to see how players develop both on the floor and in their studies.
Things amp up over the summer and can move quickly in the fall like it did this year, depending on a player’s reputation and development Smiley explained.
Alston gave his verbal commitment to St. Bonaventure this week. It was his only visit, but the Dunbar High School, Baltimore native was viewed as one of the top five JUCO point guards in the nation.
Dure plans to attend Arkansas State, while Rodriguez will head to the Mountain West Conference to play for Nevada — a team that recruited him in high school in Nevada.
Smiley said the pieces simply fit right for each player. For the SC squad as a whole, such clamor around the program can have different effects on a brand new group of players at a new school.
“It could go either way,” Smiley said of the possible distraction. “As a coach you’re nervous about it unless you address it. We knew these three were going to move on, we have so many that will this year, with five sophomores and three transfers and a couple freshmen even.”
The Generals bring back guards Tate Hilgenkamp (Laramie), Dure and Alston who saw significant time last season, as well as Taylor MIllay (Glenrock), who came on late in the year and Jeff Amazan.
The Generals make-up is slightly different from Smiley’s recruiting classes in the past in that the transfers bring a different maturity level.
With talent comes its own set of challenges, and the commitments create a buzz around the early goings at practice. Smiley said they tell players jealousy can’t be a part of it, and the more players recruited helps other guys find schools as the Generals program gains reputation.
“It’s the idea that a rising tide lifts all boats,” Smiley said. “The better we are, it helps everybody at the end.”
On the floor Friday, the Generals work to fuse together that raw skill into a team. A player like Alston is the perfect example of that process. He was as explosive as any at the JUCO level in his freshman season for the Generals last year, playing around the rim, finding acrobatic finishes after lighting-fast drives through the lane. He averaged 8.9 points, 2.6 rebounds and 3.0 assists per game. Still, his development as a point guard had its ups and downs.
“Our biggest goal and hope is that he’s grown from year one to year two,” Smiley said. “He’d have a great game and then an off game, but not for lack of effort or attitude. He struggled in a system, because the point guard position was new to him. I expect with a year under his belt his talent will turn into a good point guard, where he can run offense and make reads.”
There’s plenty more surrounding Alston, and Smiley hopes not only will they thrive in talent, but in their size and depth.
The Generals played five games last weekend in Casper in what Smiley judged as a “great experience” as the team won a couple and lost a couple, learning to deal with both results.
“We are very talented,” he acknowledged. “We had great practices last week, but one of the problems we had (in Casper) is that we were very selfish. We took selfish shots and we took a lot of contested shots,” he said.
“We got away from the team concept offensively. The problem with talent can be getting guys to buy into roles. Guys need to realize that fewer shots for talented players makes a better team.”
Early in a nearly six-month season, those problems are fixable.
“Functioning as a team is the big goal tomorrow night,” Smiley said. “Our goal is to get a little better every day.”
There is no admission for Friday night’s game. The Generals begin the regular season Nov. 1 against Great Falls in Sheridan.