BY JEREMY HOECK
VERMILLION — The Joey James era at USD unofficially begins Monday. On the court, at least. And earlier than usual.
Thanks to a new NCAA rule passed in May, the Coyotes — under interim head coach James — will begin their pre-season practices Monday in Vermillion, over two weeks earlier than they did a year ago (Oct. 15).
The new rule allows teams to begin practicing 42 days before their first game. USD’s season opener is Nov. 9 at St. Bonaventure, meaning the Coyotes could have started practices Saturday. They instead chose to begin Monday.
“It’s good, though, it gives us opportunities to be with our guys and for a longer period of time,” James said Sunday.
Under the rule change, USD can hold 30 days of practice, with 12 days off. The team will be limited to 20 hours of practice and six days a week.
“It gives you more of a chance to prepare,” senior center Trevor Gruis said Sunday. “Coach talked about maybe having a couple scrimmages, so that’s always good.
“With some new guys coming in, it’s good to get those extra practices in.”
Those early practices will be kept pretty “basic,” James said, with the keys being skill development, and some early offensive and defensive schemes.
As for any potential changes under James, who took over for long-time coach Dave Boots, Gruis pointed to offense right away.
“I think we’ll score a few more points this year,” Gruis said, smiling. “Coach James definitely likes to get up and down the court, so I think I still need to get in better shape to run that much.”
The Coyotes return four starters, four reserves and three redshirts from last season’s 10-20 campaign.
Starters returning include Gruis, Brandon Bos (Jr., G), Karim Rowson (Sr., G) and Casey Kasperbauer (So., G). Reserves back include Tyler Flack (So., F), Eric Robertson (So., F), Jack Foley (Sr., G) and Tucker Volesky (Jr., G).
The Coyotes will also get a boost from three redshirts from a year ago, Trey Norris (So., G), Adam Thoseby (So., G) and Tyler Larson (RJr., G) — all of whom figure to see significant minutes in 2013-14.
USD also has five newcomers, transfer Tavian Pomlee (Jr., G/F), as well as freshmen Bounama Keita (C), Rico Thompson (G), Vlad Stoicoviciu (G) and Austin Sparks (F).
“It’s a really good group, but we’ve got to get better though, and we know that,” James said.
Yes, it’s been a hectic September following Boots’ sudden retirement on Sept. 3, but the program is anxious to settle into a normal pre-season schedule, James said.
“Now it’s about getting into a routine,” he said. “We’re looking forward to (Monday); eager to get on the floor.”