Men's basketball: New NCAA rules allow FGCU players to get in extra work over summer

This time last year, new Florida Gulf Coast University men’s basketball coach Andy Enfield and his staff had but a handful of players working out on campus.

The former Florida State assistant couldn’t coach them, not even a little, even though there was a slew of work to do. FGCU, like every other Division I program, was reliant on pickup games, tips from a couple veterans and conditioning work with its strength coach, Randy Popple.

Thanks to the NCAA’s move in January to allow two hours per week of hands-on instruction from the coaching staff for eight summer weeks, the Eagles flocked in for summer school and practices during the two sessions this year. The NCAA allows eight hours of basketball-oriented work per week, but six of those are under the conditioning/strength restrictions of the past.

The move does not apply to women’s basketball.

“I think it’s great for college basketball,” said Enfield, who led FGCU to a 15-17 record and a surprising run into the Atlantic Sun tournament title game last season. “It gives us a more structured atmosphere for players to improve on their skills.”

Only sophomore forward Filip Cvjeticanin, who has been in his native Croatia, has sat out. Junior guard Christophe Varidel also is home in Switzerland, but he was on-hand for the first summer session. Starting junior forward Eddie Murray has missed a few weeks with a sprained ankle.

It’s only 16 hours. But it is a big deal.

“This makes a huge impact,” said starting junior forward Chase Fieler, who spent last summer in his home state of West Virginia. “That’s two hours (a week) you deal with coaches who are working with you and watching you and getting specific things they want from you. They see the improvements and are able to let us know what to work on and keep things going rather than us trying to guess.”

All freshmen are eligible for summer practices. Sophomores must be registered in summer school or have already completed 30 hours with at least a 2.2 GPA.

Juniors and seniors must be progressing academically or be in summer school.

Enfield mostly has broken the two hours into 40-minute weekly increments. He said some programs may focus on team concepts, but his is dwelling on individual skill development. There will be plenty of time to work on the team sets and plans in the fall, Enfield said, and he’s “a big believer in individual improvement — whether it’s passing, shooting, footwork or ball-handling. That’s how your team improves.”

After practices, the players, led by veterans, continue to work on the lessons taught.

“We’ve seen some big improvements across the whole team,” Enfield said. “I’ve seen it from each player. It’s exciting as coaches to see our guys maturing and making big improvements in footwork and offensive moves and perimeter shooting.

“It’s great for all our team. It gives the upperclassmen a chance to lead and it gives the freshmen a chance to see what it takes to be a college basketball player.”

In the past, pickup games — still a small part of the sessions — were a big staple of the players’ summer diets. Those on campus, at least. As for individual skills, they sometimes regressed, tweaking wrongly on a fundamental and repeating those mistakes for several months.

“This gives us an opportunity to see them three times a week and correct them,” Enfield said.

Fieler can relate.

“I came in (last year) with different footwork than they wanted me to use, so them being able to see that instead of having someone work on it the wrong way then having to correct it during the season is a big difference,” he said.

This goes beyond improving skill sets. Enfield said his staff has gone out of its way to make these sessions “less intense,” and his players agree, giving them a bit more insight into the personalities of the now second-year coaches. Mistakes aren’t as critical in the summer, of course, and there’s plenty of time for adjustments.

“You definitely build a much better relationship with them having these two hours a week over the summer when they’re not pushing you and preparing you for games,” Fieler said. “They are really just focused on you.”

Obviously, the summer sessions help team chemistry.

“As coaches, we can definitely tell the difference between this summer and last summer,” Enfield said. “There’s a sense of excitement and the work ethic and maturity. ... We are really proud of our team. They seem to be taking that next step. Our goal is to compete for a league championship every year, and it takes a certain bond and chemistry in the offseason and a certain work ethic to prepare yourself to do that. And we see that happening with our team.”

The summer shifts also are important academically. Not only do those who attend summer school have higher graduation rates, but knocking out three to six credit hours in the summer helps players carry 12 instead of 15 (or even more) during the hectic season.

“It’s big on the academic side,” Fieler said. “I’m taking two of my more difficult courses over the summer.”

The biggest beneficiaries are freshmen. FGCU, which returns all five of its regular starters, has two — guard Dajuan Graf from North Carolina and forward/center Leonard Livingston of Maryland.

“It’s a big advantage for freshmen because it gives them exposure to Division I basketball in an atmosphere where they can grow quickly, but they don’t have the burden of 12 credits, plus study hall, plus the travel, plus the 20 hours (of practice) a week we’re allowed during the season,” Enfield said. “It gives them an introduction, and when they start school, they’re already exposed to Division I basketball and are ready to adapt to the rigors of a fall semester much easier.”

Said Graf: “This is really helpful. It builds team chemistry and helps you get used to the college game by the fall. Every day I get more comfortable here, and my teammates are teaching me about college life.”

Last summer, starting point guard Brett Comer was one of four freshmen on FGCU’s campus.

“We came in and there were only four of us here,” Comer said. “And there were only a couple upperclassmen here. We didn’t have the chemistry going into it. And we had to learn later how to play with each other.

“Now this year we have pretty much everybody here. We have a good team chemistry. The young guys are learning well. We’re working on stuff we didn’t get to really work on last year, so our games are getting so much better.

“We’re hungry for more.”

© 2012 Naples Daily News. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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