On the bus ride to play two of the biggest games of his life, Malachi Smith had his mind – and his eyes – on another team.
It was Thursday afternoon, March 15, and Smith and his Belleville West (Ill.) High School teammates were on the bus heading to Peoria for the state tournament. At the same time, Wright State was playing Tennesseein the NCAA tournament, and Smith was glued to the game on his phone.
“A bunch of guys were crowding around asking, ‘Who you watching?’” Smith recalled. “I said, ‘That’s my team!’”
Skyelar Potter also watched the game with a group of people and made sure everyone around him knew who it was.
“I was like that’s my team,” he said. “That’s me. I’m going there. We’re going again next year, back-to-back.”
Though recruiting visits, signing day ceremonies and social media interactions with the upperclassmen, incoming freshman feel a part of the program long before move to campus.
But for Smith, Potter and Grant Basile, the official start to their Wright State careers was Tuesday when the three freshmen took part in their first team workout at the Setzer Pavilion.
“The speed of the game and the quickness of decision making, it’s a different level,” Basile said after the workout. “But it’s fun. It’s exciting.”
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Basile is a 6-foot-8 post player, while Smith and Potter are guards.
And with just 10 players practicing due to the team having two open scholarships and junior guard Alan Vest recovering from offseason surgery, all three freshmen got plenty of action and made a good first impression.
“They’re really good players, and I think everybody, between the coaching staff and us, are really excited about them,” senior/graduate student Parker Ernsthausen said.
“I see all these young guys in the locker room and just thinking wow, I was there four years ago,” senior guard Mark Hughes added. “ I remember how I felt coming into my first workouts all nervous and stuff because I didn’t know what to expect. We’re just taking them under our wing and telling them that it’s going to be a long summer and it’s a chance for us to get better and for them to improve their game. We’re going to need them to get better and they’ve got to get better for us.”
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The team is schedule to practice and work out in the weight room Tuesday through Friday this week. And there will be a few more sessions before the official start of practice in October.
And each time the team gets together, the focus will be on the three freshmen and getting them up to speed.
“Primarily this is for the young guys to get used to what we do offensively,” coach Scott Nagy said. “For the older guys, so much of what we do is habit now. For these (freshmen) it’s so brand new, and it’s hard to be a good player because you have to think about every step you take.
“What we’re doing now is just our regular motion,” Nagy continued. “There’s no set (plays) to it. They just need to be players. There’s certain cuts and things like that that we don’t want. For the most part it’s just learning how to be a good basketball player within motion.”
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And the veterans on the team are prepared to help with the process each step of the way.
“We’re just trying to find a balance between letting them figure it out on their own, because that’s important, but at the same time kind of guiding them to the destination of where they need to be,” Ernsthausen said. “I think they’re well on their way already, so the rest of the summer will be good for that. It’s just basketball at the end of the day and they’ll get it.”